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Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

HBO and Cinemax, two premium cable channels that are owned by AT&T, have gone dark for more than 10 million Dish Pay TV subscribers and 2.5 million Sling TV subscribers, a digital TV package owned by Dish.

Why it matters: It's the first time HBO, which is considered a must-have premium channel for many consumers, has been blocked to customers over a distribution deal disagreement.

The details: HBO says Dish cut the signal. Dish says HBO cut the signal. In reality, Dish physically cut the signal after it felt HBO was "making untenable demands" — asking for more money — from Dish to distribute its programming.

  • HBO says Dish has been extremely difficult to negotiate with after "responding to our good faith attempts with unreasonable terms."
  • But Dish argues that AT&T, which owns satellite provider DIRECTV, has a vested interest in stealing Dish's Pay TV subscribers and is choosing to not come to an agreement for that reason. Dish claims this will allow AT&T to lure Dish's subscribers to DIRECTV, where they'll access HBO.
  • HBO disputes this, saying they need the widest distribution possible to survive. But Dish says that the fact that HBO's first-ever blackout is occurring while it's under the ownership of AT&T is telling.

Between the lines: Dish has a record of using these types of negotiating tactics with TV networks.

  • Dish boss Charlie Ergen has a reputation for being a tough negotiator when it comes to these types of agreements. He has in the past said that "real negotiating starts when we go dark."
  • For example, Univision is currently pressing regulators to look into whether Dish has misled customers in marketing its services, despite the fact that Univision has been blacked out on Dish's network for months.

The bigger picture: Dish blames the approval of AT&T's $85 billion takeover of HBO's parent company Time Warner for the move.

  • It claims that no guidelines were put in place by the Justice Department to ensure that AT&T wouldn't leverage its exclusive ownership of HBO to demand more money from AT&T operators.
  • But regulators essentially signaled that no guidelines are necessary in approving the merger because HBO has no market incentive to reduce distribution.
  • The possibility of blackouts, however, was a massive issue during the months-long trial between AT&T/Time Warner and the Justice Department.
“This behavior, unfortunately, is consistent with what the Department of Justice predicted would result from the merger. We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will correct the errors of the District Court.”
— A DOJ spokesperson to Axios

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”

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