UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after the blackout began, it has now ended after the FCC stepped in. However, a deal between the two has yet to be reached. A statement from FCC Chair Tom Wheeler [via Deadline] reads, “On behalf of more than 5 million consumers nationwide, I am pleased DISH and Sinclair have agreed to end one of the largest blackouts in history and extend their negotiations. The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue.”
Original story continues below.
DISH Network subscribers lost access to 129 local TV channels operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group across the U.S. late Tuesday (Aug. 25), in what amounts to the largest single television blackout in history.
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,” DISH SVP of programming Warren Schlichting 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 EVP 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. 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.
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 151,000. 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, but that compulsory carriage requirement goes out the window if broadcasters are seeking retrans fees.