Satellite-broadcaster Dish is known in the media industry as a hard bargainer when carriage contracts come up for renewal. HBO hasn’t been available on the service since November. Now, other TV networks face a similar prospect.
Unless Dish and certain content suppliers reach new terms by Monday evening, subscribers who use several cable networks currently run or maintained by Walt Disney could lose access to them. “Our contract with Dish for the FX and National Geographic networks is due to expire soon, so we have a responsibility to make our viewers aware of the potential loss of our programming. However, we remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so,” Disney said in a statement.
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“Dish’s goal is to keep these channels available to our customer,” Dish said Saturday. “We are unsure why Disney, the new owner of these channels, decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process at a point when there is still time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal.”
Other clashes may be in the offing. Subscribers who use Fox Prime Ticket, Fox Carolinas, Fox SportsTime Ohio, or any one of about 20 of the Fox regional sports networks could lose access to them via either Dish or Sling, the broadband-video service Dish operates. YES, the regional sports network that shows games from the New York Yankees, is slated to come off Sling if terms can’t be reached by a similar deadline, according to people familiar with the matter. These networks, which were sold to Walt Disney by the former 21st Century Fox as part of a larger deal and are slated to be sold to other parties in the next few months, are under Disney’s control at present, but are slated to be transferred to various buyers in coming weeks, and an interim group is overseeing carriage negotiations, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Another contract is also nearing the end of its term, according to people familiar with the situation – the one that allows Dish to carry the various outlets owned by Fox Corporation, which include Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and Fox Sports 1. Fox Corp. declined to comment on the status of its carriage contracts. Dish is currently enmeshed in a squabble with Meredith Corp, which operates 17 stations in about a dozen markets that came off Dish a few days ago as part of a contract renewal dispute.
Already, YES and the Fox regional networks have launched new websites telling consumers they may lose access to some of the sports networks they depend on for coverage of local games. “Sling TV may drop your Yankees,” reads a notice posted at keepyesnetwork.com, which also includes a countdown clock telling visitors when the contract is about to end. Similarly, at keepmyhometeams.com, visitors are told “Starting Monday, July 22, Dish and Sling will no longer carry Fox Regional Sports Networks Nationwide.”
The relationships between Dish and the content companies are just the latest to fray at a time when viewers are moving away from traditional distributors for their favorite content, and when media companies are trying to get the best prices possible from vendors as their audiences migrate to streaming video.
AT&T and CBS are embroiled in a new fight over renewal terms. CBS’ 28 stations are going dark for about 6.6 million subscribers to the telecom giant’s DirecTV and U-verse services. AT&T is also bickering with Nexstar, whose stations have not been available on AT&T platforms since July 4.
Dish’s talks come at an intriguing moment for the company. The satellite-broadcaster has been in talks to take control of various spectrum licenses and other assets that are part of either T-Mobile or Sprint, which have been working to complete a merger valued at $26 billion. Dish has been reported to spend $6 billion to acquire the telecom properties.
Ownership of the regional sports properties is expected to transfer from Disney to other companies in weeks to come. Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to buy 21 of the networks from Disney in a deal valued at $10.6 billion. Meanwhile, YES is being bought by a group that includes the Yankees and e-commerce giant Amazon, as well as Sinclair, which will have a smaller ownership stake in the venture.