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Dish, Sinclair Reach Deal to End Massive Station Blackout

Dish Network and Sinclair Broadcast Group have reached a carriage agreement that will restore 129 local TV stations to the satcaster’s platform, ending the largest TV blackout in history less than 24 hours after it began.

Dish said in a statement that strong words on Wednesday from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler helped nudge the sides on to a deal. The stations went dark late Tuesday night after more than a week of wrangling over terms for a new retransmission consent deal. Sinclair said the sides had reached a two-week temporary extension to allow them to work out the final terms.

“We are grateful for the FCC’s work on behalf of consumers to actively broker a productive path forward,” said Jeff Blum, Dish’s senior VP and deputy general counsel.

Wheeler ordered FCC officials to convene an emergency meeting between Dish and Sinclair execs to “get to the bottom” of the fee dispute.

Late Wednesday, Wheeler praised the sides for ending the standoff but vowed: “The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue.”

Earlier in the day, Wheeler issued his strongest statement to date on the issue of retrans squabbles. The FCC has traditionally shied away from commenting on specific disputes as they involve private business negotiations.

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

Dish had previously filed a complaint against Sinclair, claiming the Maryland-based broadcaster was violating the FCC’s rule that sides must negotiate retransmission consent deals in good faith. Dish asked the FCC to stay action on the complaint last week after it reached a temporary extension with Sinclair.

On Wednesday morning, however, Dish reinstated the complaint. As of Wednesday evening, Dish once again asked the commission to stay action on the complaint while the final deal terms are being hammered out.

Dish said the Sinclair stations were in the process of being restored to the satcaster’s air. The blackout affected an estimated 5 million of Dish’s 13.9 million subscribers.

The FCC is reviewing its nearly 25-year-old retrans rules in the face of a rising number of battles leading to blackouts between broadcasters and MVPDs. In the past decade, station owners have become more aggressive about demanding significant fees from operators in exchange for the right to retransmit local stations. The strains are increasing at a time when all of TV is adjusting to new digital competition, a changing advertising market and erosion in the live viewing that has traditionally fueled the broadcast biz.

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