×

Dish Loses 129 Sinclair Stations in Biggest TV Blackout Ever

FCC chairman calls for emergency meeting with parties to resolve dispute

About 5 million Dish Network subscribers lost access to 129 local TV stations operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group across the U.S. late Tuesday, in what amounts to the largest single TV blackout in history in terms of channels dropped.

Dish said the companies had reached an agreement on rates and all other terms for the carriage of the Sinclair local stations, but that Sinclair demanded the satcaster pull its signals anyway. Dish alleged Sinclair forced the blackout because it wants to gain leverage in carriage negotiations for a cable channel — which Dish didn’t identify — that Sinclair is aiming to buy.

“We have agreed to rates and all terms to carry Sinclair’s local stations,” Warren Schlichting, Dish’s senior VP of programming, said in a statement. “But Sinclair is blacking out 129 local stations in an effort to negotiate a carriage agreement for an unrelated cable channel that it hopes to acquire, but does not own today.”

In response, Sinclair exec VP and general counsel Barry Faber said in a statement: “Dish, which is reported to have engaged in more recent station blackouts than any other MVPD, is simply trying to spin the facts in an apparent effort to make a political statement. While Sinclair, unlike Dish, is not interested in negotiating this transaction in the press, Sinclair remains willing to negotiate a fair deal with Dish.”

The blackout affects stations in 79 markets in 36 states and Washington, D.C. Most of the stations are affiliated with the Big Four networks or the CW. Separately, Dish has extended its retransmission contract for 23 local stations not controlled by Sinclair for which Sinclair handles carriage negotiations.

The two sides had reached a temporary truce Aug. 15, when their previous pact was set to expire at midnight ET, as they continued to negotiate.

In the wake of the blackout, Dish reiterated its appeal to the Federal Communications Commission to intervene in the situation. Earlier this month the company filed a complaint with the FCC accusing Sinclair of violating the good-faith covenants of the FCC’s retransmission consent rules. Dish said it intends to amend the complaint to include the allegations that Sinclair has tied the retrans talks to carriage of the unnamed cable channel.

Update: In a statement released at noon ET Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he has directed the agency’s Media Bureau to arrange an emergency meeting with Dish and Sinclair. He said the companies will have until midnight to file their views on the dispute.

“The public interest is the Commission’s responsibility,” Wheeler said. “We will not stand idly by while millions of consumers in 79 markets across the country are being denied access to local programming. The Commission will always act within the scope of its authority if it emerges that improper conduct is preventing a commercial resolution of the dispute.”

For Dish, the retrans fight with Sinclair comes after it lost a net 81,000 pay-TV subs in the second quarter of 2015, with analysts estimating it shed 151,000 satellite TV customers. As of the end of June, Dish reported 13.93 million TV customers, including those with its over-the-top Sling TV service.

Dish has a legacy of pugnacious relations with broadcast and cable TV networks. Since January 2012, Dish has been involved in 32 of the 74 retrans disputes in the U.S. that have led to stations going dark for pay-TV subs, according to the National Assn. of Broadcasters.

The FCC has said it plans to review rules regarding retransmission consent, given the uptick in battles between station groups and pay-TV providers. Cable and satellite TV providers are required by law to carry broadcast TV stations. However, the compulsory carriage requirement goes out the window if broadcasters are seeking retrans fees, which require negotiations between station owners and MVPDs.

Broadcast TV stations, which provide their over-the-air signals free to the public, have been demanding increasingly higher fees from pay-TV distributors. Retrans revenue for the industry is projected to hit $6.3 billion this year, ballooning to $10.3 billion by 2021, according to research firm SNL Kagan.

More TV

  • 'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final

    'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final Season Backlash 'Media-Led Hate Campaign'

    What is life like now after “Game of Thrones?” That’s the question that fans have been asking themselves and that cast members had to answer at the show’s final Comic-Con panel. But first, Conleth Hill, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and several others cleared the air and addressed the perceived negative response to the final season. “I don’t [...]

  • SDCC Roundup: AMC Drops 'The Walking

    SDCC TV News Roundup: AMC Releases 'The Walking Dead' Season 10 Trailer (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con has become a hotbed of entertainment news in recent years, especially for the television industry. In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, AMC dropped a trailer for the 10th season of “The Walking Dead” and FX released a first look at “Mayans MC” Season 2. FIRST LOOKS AMC debuted the trailer for Season [...]

  • ARCHER: 1999 -- "Cubert" -- Season

    'Archer' Renewed for Season 11 at FXX

    “Archer” has been picked up for an eleventh season. The announcement was made Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. The news comes less than a week ahead of the Season 10 finale. Season 11 is slated to debut on FXX in 2020. While the show initially focused on the agents and support staff of a covert [...]

  • Carnival Row

    Amazon Debuts New 'Carnival Row' Footage at Comic-Con (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con attendees got an extended look at the upcoming Amazon drama “Carnival Row” during the show’s panel at the annual fanfest on Friday. Two new featurettes (see above and below) offer in-depth looks at the backstories of the two main characters — Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne) and Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom). Delevigne plays [...]

  • Emmys: 'Better Call Saul' Short Loses

    'Better Call Saul' Short Loses Emmy Nominations in Light of Category Rule Violation

    Better Call AMC: Two Emmy nominations for the network’s short-form series “Better Call Saul Employee Training: Madrigal Electromotive Security” have been pulled after it was deemed ineligible for competition. The Television Academy recently discovered that the series didn’t meet the minimum required runtime of two minutes for at least six episodes — a new stipulation [...]

  • The Boys Amazon Prime

    ‘The Boys’ Lands Early Season 2 Renewal at Amazon

    Amazon has renewed “The Boys” for a second season ahead of the show’s series premiere next week. The streamer also announced that Aya Cash will join the show in the second season. Season 1 of “The Boys” will debut on July 26. It is based on the New York Times best-selling comic of the same [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Big Blackout Looms as CBS, AT&T Go Down to Wire on Renewal Talks

    A blackout affecting CBS stations in major markets throughout the country looms as CBS and AT&T executives go down to the wire on negotiations for a retransmission consent deal covering 28 O&O stations. The sides have sparred publicly during the past few days as 11 p.m. PT Friday expiration of the previous contract approached. AT&T [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content