Dish threatens to pull ESPN

In the latest Pay TV provider-sports network dispute, we find that Dish Network is threatening to pull ESPN and its sister Disney channels if an agreement isn't made by the end of the month according to Ad Age. Yes, it's another instance where subscribers could lose a sports network over subscriber fees.

You may think this is posturing or an idle threat, but before you dismiss this, you should know that Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen isn't afraid to pull networks over rising fees. Since 2010, Dish dropped the Fox cable networks, AMC, Viacom's networks, Raycom's local stations and the Sinclair Broadcast Group only to restore them later. Dish has also removed New York regional sports networks MSG and SNY over their cost and has yet to return them to its lineup.

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ESPN and Dish have had a contentious relationship with the satellite provider suing the Worldwide Leader three years ago seeking over $150 milllion in damages saying the network breached the contract that is about to expire. The two sides settled the dispute earlier this year, but for a fraction of what Dish was seeking. Now with a September 30 deadline looming, Ergen has told investors that he won't be afraid to remove ESPN and its sister Disney networks if the two sides can't reach an agreeement.

Ergen said, "There could be a day when strategically, companies just can't get together, where they go opposite directions and they both have strategies that work for them, and we're prepared to go either way,"

ESPN is the most expensive of all cable networks charging over $5 per subscriber. For its new contract, ESPN is seeking increases that could reach as high as $8 per subscriber. If Dish removes ESPN and its sister networks from its lineup, it could mean the loss of 14 million subscribers.

The Dish-AMC dispute left viewers without that network and IFC for three months. Dish's removal of the Viacom networks (MTV, VH1 and others) lasted for a week. If the dispute with ESPN is as contentious as its lawsuit, it could mean the loss of the network for an extended period of time. And just like the recent CBS-Time Warner Cable impasse that lasted for one month, viewers were left holding the bag.

No one wants to lose a channel, but one has to think the cable and satellite providers are secretly rooting for Dish to play hardball with ESPN, to control its fees and keep costs down. However, ESPN is hoping to increase its take from the providers so it can continue to pay for sports rights and prevent Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN from gaining ground. 

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Right now, there's still time to get an agreement done to prevent a blackout, but the longer this goes, the chances for ESPN fall by the wayside increase. We will monitor the story until there's a resolution. 

[Advertising Age]

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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