Dish Network and Tribune Media may be in trouble if they can’t quickly resolve the contract impasse that, beginning yesterday, left millions of satellite subscribers unable to watch WGN America as well as Tribune stations in 33 markets.
The broadcaster could lose as much as $50 million in annual payments from Dish if the dispute is unresolved, Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says. The No. 2 satellite company has about 5 million customers in markets with Tribune stations, and about 7 million receive its WGN America pay TV channel.
At the same time, she adds, the fight “could further pressure already challenging subscriber trends” at Dish.
Its base of satellite customers declined 4.5% over the last year to 13.4 million, MoffettNathanson Research’s Craig Moffett estimates.
Investors are still trying to figure out what’s ahead for the companies, each of which is undergoing a major transition. Tribune shares have depreciated 32% over the last 12 months, while Dish is down more than 27%.
Tribune and Dish are still negotiating, and Wall Streeters believe the companies will reach an agreement soon. Tribune shares declined 1.3% on a weak day for the overall market, and Dish was down 2%, leaving it up more than 14% for the last 30 days.
BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield says it’s “inevitable” that Dish will settle before this fall with Tribune, which is the No. 1 independent owner of Fox and CW affiliates and carries ABC, CBS, and NBC programming in several major markets.
“The only question is how long the battle lasts and whether the government chooses to intervene in the interim to protect consumers,” he adds. The FCC is weighing changes in the rules governing retransmission consent negotiations.
For now, though, the companies are manning the battle stations. Each blames the other for making unreasonable demands without providing details about the pricing and other terms so people can judge for themselves.
Dish EVP of Programming Warren Schlichting says that, among other things, he objects to Tribune “using local viewers as leverage to raise rates for WGN America – a channel that is in decline. Tribune is seeking a significant rate increase despite decreasing viewership and recently losing access to Cubs baseball.”
Tribune counters that it has negotiated similar deals with other distributors. Dish “refuses to offer us what we both know to be fair market value. It’s particularly unfortunate that they are denigrating WGNA, a network with two original top 20 shows, including Underground, one of the most important programs for a diverse audience on TV today.”