While it’s news to some consumers that they can, in fact, watch their local news without a pay-TV subscription, carriers like Dish know perfectly well that over-the-air antennas work. And the company, apparently sick of paying retransmission fees in one market, appears to be using those antennas to call a network’s bluff.
The fight this time is between Dish Network and the ABC affiliate in Providence, Multichannel News reports.
The current retransmission deal between the two expires on Friday, Aug. 18, but Dish is signaling that it has no intention of budging, outright giving digital antennas to its subscribers in the region instead.
Why the fight?
The details differ, but every fight that a network and a pay-TV provider has over a contract is the same at its core: Each company involved either wants to spend less money or make more money, and they come into conflict over the perfect balancing point.
A blackout happens when they can’t agree — or basically, when they’re playing chicken. The network bets that the provider will lose subscribers if they lose content. And the provider bets that viewers don’t care enough about a given network to walk away over it. Each is basically making a calculated guess that the stalemate will hurt the other side more than it hurts them.
Cable networks, of course, need cable and satellite companies to carry them or they have no viewers. (Though the addition of streaming options is beginning to change that.) But broadcast networks are a different story. Consumers who live in densely populated areas, near enough to broadcast towers, can simply grab a signal out of the air for free (even if many folks don’t know they can).
So Dish has an extra weapon in its arsenal against the network: It can simply give customers antennas, remove the local networks from its package of offerings, and wipe its hands of the whole situation.
And Dish really doesn’t want to bother signing a new contract, it seems. The company is telling customers they can save $10 a month on their bills if they drop their local channel bundle, and it adds that thousands of customers in the area have already switched to doing just that.
This sounds familiar…
These contract disputes are pretty common among all carriers, but Dish in particular seems extremely prone to fights with the companies that broadcast local channels.
In March of this year, Dish let Hearst-owned networks go dark in 30 states. In 2016, it was a very public fight with Tribune. And in 2015, it was a fight with Sinclair that left local networks dark for a day.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.