They pulled the plug last night, more than 150 stations went dark across the nation in the biggest such blackout ever and then they fought out in public who’s fault it was. The Federal Communications Commission and its chair Tom Wheeler even made the rare move of stepping in. Now the blackout is over but there still isn’t a sealed deal. “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,” said FCC Chair Wheeler today. The talks are set to go another two weeks on what is currently an evolving new contract. “The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue,” added Wheeler.
“We are pleased to announce that we were able to come to an agreement in principal with DISH, and we regret any inconvenience that was caused to the DISH subscribers as a result of the short blackout,” said Sinclair’s EVP/General Counsel Barry Faber Wednesday.
Still, one day after the 87 network affiliates and other stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group disappeared off Dish Network, the two sides have a long way to go to signing a new retransmission agreement, a source close to the situation tells me. With their original contract expiring on August 15, the Colorado-based satcaster and Sinclair had hammered out a short-term deal to give them more time – on August 25, that time ran out, even though Dish said they had a deal on fees.
As the new round of negotiations now begin it’s hard to pick a white hat in this one as both sides have a history of taking the hardline approach. And both sides say the other was to blame for the blackout. It does seem Sinclair was holding out for Dish to “negotiate a carriage agreement for an unrelated cable channel that it hopes to acquire, but does not own today,” according to Dish SVP of programming Warren Schlichting last night after the blackout started.As a part of today’s detente, Dish has asked for a stay on the injunctive relief it sought late Tuesday from the FCC.
In past performances, Sinclair went to the mattresses in retrans talks with DirecTV in 2013 and Time Warner Cable in 2011. On its end, Dish took Tuner-owned channels like CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim off the air for a month in late 2014 and Fox News Channel for 3-plus weeks in December and this January. In July, Sinclair re-upped is affiliate deal with CBS, which carries the highly valued and obviously much watched Sunday NFL games.
Mainly based in smaller markets in the South and Midwest, Sinclair has stations like ABC affiliate KOMO Seattle-Tacoma and the CW affil WUCW Minneapolis-St. Paul – which are among the top 25 markets in the country.