Dish, Sinclair negotiate as blackout possibility nears
WTAT FOX24 and WMMP MyTV Charleston soon could go black for local Dish Network subscribers if the satellite distributor doesn’t come to terms with the channels’ Maryland-based owner by early Thursday morning.
That much, Dish and Sinclair Broadcast Group can agree on.
Why the continuation of their 2009 retransmission consent agreement is at risk has been the subject of accusations and recriminations in dueling public statements this week. It’s also just the latest such dispute, the frequency of which has been increasing in recent years.
Colorado-based Dish claims Sinclair is seeking a “massive price increase” for the right to broadcast its channels’ programming.
Sinclair said “the prices it is requesting for its extremely popular stations are substantially lower than the amounts Dish is paying for other far less popular channels it carries as a result of Dish’s flawed economic model.”
Sinclair, which operates in 45 markets, reminded viewers that its stations can be seen on other services.
Both sides have positioned themselves as consumer advocates, yet viewers seem most likely to lose, either through a blackout or higher bills.
Matt Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, said there were 51 blackouts nationwide in 2011, and more than that already this year. Sinclair had a similar dispute with Comcast in 2007.
“It’s happening more and more,” said Polka, whose organziation is made up of 900 small cable companies that compete with Dish. On this issue they are allies in seeking to change the retransmission-fee framework.
Dish spokesman Aaron Johnson said the satellite provider regularly negotiates the multi-year contracts with its 1,800 local broadcast stations in order to keep carrying everything from local news to NFL games and shows like “American Idol.”
“In this instance, Sinclair’s asking for a massive price increase, and because we do these negotiations so frequently we know what other similar broadcast companies, what we pay them ... and what Sinclair is asking for is significantly higher,” he said.
Barry Faber, a Sinclair executive vice president, said his company’s demands are in line with the popularity of the programming it carries.
“The reason that there are increases that are more than you might typically think might apply in today’s economy is we’ve been underpaid for so long,” Faber said, referring to the 1992 law that allowed broadcasters to sell their programming to cable companies. “The rates ... are far less than we really deserve.”
Neither side will reveal the numbers associated with their ongoing negotiations, but both pledged to continue talking in the hopes of getting a deal done. The deadline is 2 a.m. Thursday, Johnson said.
“We have moved closer in the last day, so that’s helpful, but we’re still not there,” Faber said.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.