The crux of the negotiations involves the expiration of Dish’s deal to carry CBS’ 29 O&O stations in 17 local markets. The talks have been on and off for months, with CBS recently accusing Dish of dragging its feet in an effort to postpone a deal until after the end of the regular NFL season. The saber-rattling had threatened to lead to a blackout of CBS stations as of Thursday evening, when the carriage pact expired.
In the past few days, the sides have been deeply engaged in talks. CBS’ effort is being led by Ray Hopkins, prexy of television networks distribution. The extension is said to run through Tuesday afternoon.
Dish is famously pugnacious in its dealmaking with programmers. Most recently, the satcaster dropped CNN, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Boomerang, TCM, HLN and TruTV on Oct. 21 in a dispute with Time Warner; TNT and TBS could be off Dish by Dec. 5 if the sides can’t come to terms.
Moreover, Dish is in tense talks with Comcast over a local carriage deals for a clutch of regional sports networks. CSN New England was dropped in relevant markets by the satcaster on Aug. 1. Contracts for CSN Chicago, Bay Area, California and Mid-Atlantic are due to expire on Dec. 1. Talks have been ongoing, but NBCU Sports, which manages the Comcast regional nets, said in a statement it is “growing increasingly concerned that Dish is not willing to work toward mutually acceptable terms for continuing carriage of NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of Comcast SportsNet regional networks.”
It’s understood that the biggest sticking point with CBS is not the retrans fees but conflicts over Dish’s plans to launch an over the top service, as well as its desire to offer its satellite-TV subscribers the ability to watch CBS programs on mobile devices when they are away from home. The battle over out-of-home rights was a central factor in CBS’ monthlong carriage battle with Time Warner Cable in 2013.
Dish Network has further enraged broadcasters with its Hopper DVR service that zips through commercials and offers subscribers the easy ability to record a full night of primetime programming with one button. Dish has dialed back the ad-zapping features of Hopper after facing lawsuits by the Big Four broadcasters in 2013.
Dish Network at present has about 14 million subscribers. It’s not clear how many of its subscribers in CBS markets would be affected by a shutdown. Sixteen of CBS’ stations are Eye O&Os that carry NFL games and other sports that are the kind of programming that would draw howls from subscribers in a prolonged blackout. The rest of the group is comprised of eight CW affiliates, three indies and two MyNetwork TV outlets.
Public sparring between programmers and distributors is increasing as both sides of the pay TV arena are trying to sort out options for embracing digital distribution and other new programming platforms. AMC Networks earlier this month took the step of warning viewers via a crawl in an episode of “The Walking Dead” that it is in tough renewal talks with DirecTV that could lead to a blackout.
It’s unclear whether a blackout of the CBS O&Os would also include Dish dropping pay cabler Showtime or CBS Sports Network. The sides are said to be in talks for a wide-ranging deal that would incorporate most if not all of the Eye’s cable assets. That list includes TV Guide Network, a joint venture with Lionsgate that is to be rebranded Pop in January; and Smithsonian Channel.