HBO And Dish Network Resolve Nearly 3-Year Carriage Impasse, Firming Up New Deal Including Promo Discounts

HBO Max John Stankey
CEO of WarnerMedia John Stankey Presley Ann/WarnerMedia

HBO and Dish Network have resolved one of the most bitter distribution disputes in pay-TV history (and that’s saying something), agreeing to terms on a new carriage agreement.

The companies had reached an impasse in the fall of 2018, resulting in the first blackout ever experienced by HBO starting in November of that year. Negotiations at the highest executive levels failed to bear fruit, with both parties publicly and privately indicating a willingness to go their separate ways.

The new deal spans HBO, Cinemax and HBO Max. Dish customers will be eligible for free access to HBO and CInemax from August 6 to 15. They can also subscribe to the HBO Max Ad Free plan for $12 a month for up to 12 months if they sign up by October 27. The reduced rate is $3 cheaper than the regular monthly price.

“Our number one priority at Dish is and always has been to provide our customers the best entertainment experience,” said Brian Neylon, Group President, Dish TV. “Our customers now have greater choice in the content they can access. HBO Max and Cinemax offer iconic, beloved and acclaimed content that our customers will enjoy.”

Dish has taken a hard line in carriage talks, resulting in lengthy blackouts in recent years for Univision, large local station groups and a number of regional sports networks. The longtime satellite and streaming TV provider is in the midst of transitioning to a telecom-focused company after acquiring wireless spectrum and assets divested by Sprint and T-Mobile.

Since HBO went dark on Dish in 2018, much has changed at the premium network and in the media landscape. Run at the time by Richard Plepler, it had just become part of AT&T after a corporate takeover contested by the U.S. government. Today, Plepler is long gone after an exec purge (and now a supplier to Apple TV+). A streamlined, less siloed WarnerMedia is poised to be spun out of AT&T in a merger with Discovery due to close next summer.

HBO Max, which launched in the spring of 2020, has become the centerpiece of the company’s efforts and WarnerMedia’s interest in boosting subscriber numbers is likely to have provided newfound motivation to return to the negotiating table. Last week, AT&T said HBO and HBO Max together have more than 44 million subscribers.

During the federal trial of the Department of Justice lawsuit that aimed to block AT&T’s $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner, Dish lent its voice to the government case. Warren Schlichting, former head of Dish’s Sling TV, testified for the DOJ.

In the months that followed, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen and other execs cited what they described as AT&T’s anti-competitive structure in their opposition to a deal for HBO. Across the aisle, execs at HBO said the largely rural footprint of Dish — while significant in the scheme of things among pay-TV operators — did not match up well with HBO’s traditional core focus on upmarket, bicoastal viewers.

Once the final seasons of Game of Thrones unfolded in 2019, setting all-time ratings records for HBO but not prompting any fence-mending between parties, the situation seemed irreparable. But the impasse cost both parties many millions of dollars a year, especially WarnerMedia, which also has battled to shore up holes in its distribution map for HBO Max. With new executive leadership at the helm starting in the spring of 2020, long-awaited deals with Amazon Fire TV and Roku were finally struck, auguring well for a rapprochement with Dish.

“When we launched HBO Max, we set out to make it available to customers everywhere they chose to access premium content, and today’s launch with Dish is a key addition to our distribution strategy for the platform,” said Scott Miller, EVP of Business & Legal Affairs for WarnerMedia. “We’re excited that Dish customers can now access all that HBO Max – as well as our premium linear networks – have to offer.”

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