When television service providers and station operators fight, the only people who lose are the paying customers. In the case of this weekend, those losers were University of Texas fans who were unable to watch the Longhorns’ huge upset victory over rival Oklahoma in the Red River
Shootout Showdown on Saturday.
Some were not pleased.
— Dr. Blake Manis (@DrBlakeManis) October 10, 2015
— JA Smith (@TXLady27) October 10, 2015
Those tweets, and many others pulled together by Jacob Price at SB Nation, show the problem with television carriage disputes: viewers have no idea who to blame.
Sure, DISH is a huge part of the problem, as the satellite provider continues to raise prices on subscribers yet finds itself routinely unable to keep networks on the air for those who pay. Earlier this year, DISH lost a reported 90,000 subscribers because they were unable to keep uninterrupted service for Fox News.
You can see in the tweets above—and many more from fans in markets around the country—that local affiliates often take the brunt of the ire from fans who have no idea that their local ABC station has no say in what platforms they are on.
— The Salt (@TheSaltyAg) October 10, 2015
— TCUFrogMan (@TCUFrogMan) October 10, 2015
Some angry fans complained to ABC directly, which has even less impact. The company to complain to is Tegna Inc, a virtually faceless television operator from McLean, Virginia that negotiates packages for stations around the country. While most people who own a television have probably never heard of Tegna, they own more of the independently run major network affiliates in top 25 markets than any other company in America.
#Big12FB Programming: DISH customers in DFW & Austin (+ additional markets) affected by loss of local channels including ABC for OU-UT.
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 10, 2015
The protracted dispute with DISH got so contentious that Tegna pulled the plug on several affiliates on Friday, including the ABC station in several areas of Texas, locking local fans out of one of the best games in the last half decade for the Longhorns.
From the Austin Statesman:
Tegna had cut off Dish subscribers’ access to its local channels Friday evening in more than three dozen markets because of a contract dispute. The dispute affected 46 TV stations operated by Tegna in 38 markets across 33 states. On Sunday, the two sides said they reached a multi-year agreement, but did not provide further details.
The dispute came about because Dish had refused to pay the rate increase pushed by Tegna for retransmission consent fees.
Of course, the PR spin left both companies stuck in the muck, with Tegna calling DISH “a serial dropper of channels,” pointing the finger at DISH for “the largest broadcast blackout in history,” while claiming they have never had a problem like this with any other carriage company.
DISH unsurprisingly blamed Tegna, saying, “with DISH willing to grant an extension and a retroactive true-up on rates, TEGNA had nothing to lose and consumers had everything to gain by leaving the channels up. Instead, TEGNA chose to turn its back on its public interest obligations and use innocent consumers as bargaining chips.” [Deadline]
DISH claimed that Tegna was looking for almost double what it had been receiving for carriage fees, while Tegna claimed DISH was not in line with what other cable or satellite companies pay.
It will be interesting to see how this outage actually impacts DISH in the long term, as some angry fans were complaining enough to suggest a switch to another satellite provider like DirecTV or, gasp, cable. More and more fans are opting for cord-cutting options as well, leaving companies like DISH often scrambling to retain customers.
Per Variety, DISH lost 134,000 subscribers over the first quarter of 2015, blaming—of course—ongoing carriage disputes as part of the problem. In addition to the Fox News outage, which for what it’s worth, was only a few days long in January, DISH had previous spats over rights fees with Turner as well. And yet, as they lose subscribers this year, revenue for DISH is up.
Fewer subscribers but more revenue: However would that be possible?
The company reported revenue of $3.7 billion for the quarter ended March 31, up from $3.6 billion in the year-ago period. Net income of $351 million nearly doubled for the most recent quarter, compared with $176 million in Q1 2014.
Revenue and profits were driven by Dish’s pay-TV price increases, which went into effect in January.
By Sunday afternoon, the DISH-Tegna dispute had been resolved, presumably in enough time for Tegna’s NFL affiliates to show their local games.
Meanwhile, subscribers in Texas who wanted to watch football on Saturday get screwed twice. First, fans with DISH had to miss one of the only highlights of a down season for Texas football. Second, who do you think is going to be paying for the increases in fees it undoubtedly cost to get those stations back?
DISH? Tegna? ABC?
No. It’s us. It’s always us.