As Dish-Tribune Blackout Standoff Drags On, Satcaster Touts $7 Million Antenna Giveaway

With the start of the NFL regular season looming, Dish Network and Tribune Broadcasting say they’re still trying to hammer out a deal to resolve the retransmission fight now in its 10th week that has blacked out 42 TV stations for Dish subscribers in 33 U.S. markets.

Since the Tribune stations went dark June 12 on Dish, the satellite TV operator claims, it has distributed $7 million worth of over-the-air antennas to affected subscribers. Dish also has encouraged customers to visit Hulu and the websites of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC (including NBCOlympics.com) to access programming carried on the blacked-out Tribune stations.

Dish, in an announcement Thursday, claimed that Tribune was “back at the table,” after suspending talks for five weeks. But a Tribune rep disputed that.

“Tribune Media has been in continuous negotiations with Dish since being forced off its distribution system on June 12,” said Gary Weitman, senior VP of corporate relations. “To say otherwise is patently false, and further evidence of Dish’s willingness to mislead its customers and our viewers.”

The companies “are making headway that I am hopeful will get these channels back to our customers soon,” Warren Schlichting, Dish executive VP of marketing, programming and media sales, said in a statement. Weitman said that “despite Tribune Media’s best efforts, an agreement with Dish is not imminent, and Dish subscribers should consider switching providers before the start of football’s regular season in a few weeks.”

During the second quarter of 2016, Dish lost a record 281,000 TV subscribers. Excluding its Sling TV over-the-top subs, Dish shed an estimated 330,000 satellite TV customers, likely fueled by the Tribune blackout. As of the end of June, the company had 13.593 million pay-TV subscribers (including those with Sling TV), versus 13.932 million a year earlier.

Tribune Broadcasting’s blackout on Dish, one of the longest such outages in the industry’s history, affects an estimated 5 million Dish subs. The two sides are warring over fees to carry’s Tribune broadcast stations as well as Tribune’s WGN America cable network.

According to Dish, it has completed 10 local retransmission deals since mid-June, including a retrans pact struck earlier this month with Raycom Media covering 41 stations nationwide.

Also Thursday, joining in solidarity with unlikely bedfellows, Dish said it supported the “Broadcast TV Liberation Tour” promoting free OTA television access backed by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the National Association of Broadcasters, Antennas Direct and lobbying group TVfreedom.org.

“While we continue to advocate for an overhaul of the system that guides these types of negotiations, and have been on opposite sides of the issue from TVfreedom in the past, it is heartening to see that we may agree on this point: TV viewers should have a choice on how to watch, and how much to pay for local TV,” said Schlichting.

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