Extension Avoids Dish Blackout Of Sinclair Stations, For Now

Sinclair Broadcast Group and Dish have agreed to an extension of their carriage deal, on the eve of its expiration.

The extension avoids, for the time being, a threatened blackout of 108 Sinclair broadcast stations (including 97 ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates), and the Tennis Channel, for about 3.5 million Dish Network subscribers across about 38% of the country.

“We have agreed to a short-term extension with Dish to continue conversations,” David Gibber, senior vice president and general counsel at Sinclair, said in a statement. “We will continue to update our viewers as this develops. Sinclair stands willing to continue to negotiate in good faith and to enter into a longer extension to allow for the continued carriage of our channels to Dish subscribers.”

Analysts have said that, as part of the current negotiations, Sinclair is likely pushing Dish to reinstate the troubled Regional Sports Networks that Sinclair purchased from Disney for $10.6 billion in July 2019.

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Just prior to that acquisition, Dish and its Sling TV virtual MVPD dropped the RSNs, which this year were rebranded Bally Sports when Sinclair formed a partnership with Bally earlier this year.

Other vMVPDs have also dropped the RSNs, leaving AT&T TV as the only vMVPD airing all of the Bally RSNs.

However, Sinclair is planning to launch a streaming D2C sports service in first-half 2022, saying it could attract 4.4 million subscribers and $2 billion in annual revenue.

Carriage negotiations have become increasingly difficult and prone to saber rattling in recent years, in large part because of the spiking costs of sports programming.

On Aug. 9, Sinclair released a statement, ostensibly meant to give Dish subscribers advanced warning of an imminent blackout, saying it was “unlikely” that it could reach an agreement with Dish before the carriage deal’s Aug. 16 expiration.

“Dish Network has already taken away many local sporting events from your favorite local teams by dropping Bally Sports from its lineup. Don’t let Dish take away your favorite primetime and local programming,” Sinclair said in the Aug. 9 release.

In a subsequent Q2 earnings call, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen expressed disappointment that Sinclair was using the press to try to gain negotiations leverage. Asked if Sinclair was pushing for Dish to resume carriage of the RSNs, Ergen said only that with Dish subscribers having been without the RSNs for some time, he doubted if there would be much interest in paying to reinstate them.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission upheld imposing the maximum per-violation fine of $512,228 on 17 of 18 Sinclair Broadcast TV stations identified as having violated the FCC’s good-faith requirement in retransmission consent negotiations.

The penalties resulted from a June 2019 complaint by AT&T and its DirecTV DBS service, charging that the Sinclair stations had intentionally and unreasonably delayed retrans negotiations, in part by failing to respond to AT&T’s proposals.

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