Casualties of Carriage War: Dish v. Cox, DirecTV v. Fox Kerfuffles Threaten Huge Football Weekend with Pay TV Blackouts

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson
After scrambling away from serious criminal charges, Deshaun Watson will play his first game in a Cleveland Browns uniform on Sunday. (Image credit: Getty Images)

There's nothing in the media business quite like the drama and rhetorical sanctimony of a pay TV carriage war. 

Suddenly, pay TV operators and station groups, owned by publicly traded Wall Street companies and major hedge funds in many cases, become so very, very concerned about ... the poor consumer!

Well, with big conference championships in college football coming up on Friday and Saturday, and the usual full Sunday of pivotal week 13 NFL action set to unfold, there could be a lot of angry TV viewers out there. 

Fox is threatening a pay TV blackout with DirecTV on Friday if a new licensing deal isn't worked out, and Cox Media Group stations were blacked out on Dish Network in nine markets on Monday. 

Here are five upcoming games on the pay TV blackout precipice this weekend:

* No. 4 USC vs. No. 14 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game -- USC is one win away from a College Football Playoff berth and is looking to avenge its only loss, a 42-41 heartbreaker in Salt Lake City last month. (Next TV is still patching the ol' drywall in our man cave. I mean, can someone cover the tight end this time?) On Friday, TPG-controlled DirecTV, which is the biggest pay TV operator in Southern California, could lose access to the Fox Broadcast Network owned and operated stations, which are set to broadcast the game starting at 8 p.m. EST. The carriage/retrans kerfuffle could also take FS1, FS2 and the Big Ten Network off DirecTV, which has 13.5 million subscribers nationwide. Update: A DirecTV rep told us that should Fox channels be taken down, it wouldn't happen until midnight Saturday on the West Coast, meaning Fox O&O's covering the Pac-12 title game would remain on DirecTV for the duration of the contest. Of greater concern to a broader pool of sports-loving DirecTV subscribers nationally could be Saturday morning's World Cup showdown between the U.S. and The Netherlands, set to kick off on Fox at 10 a.m. EST. 

* No. 3 Michigan vs. Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game -- Next TV can never decide if dental implant surgery is more unpleasant than a good, ol' fashioned root canal. And we couldn't pick between Michigan and The Ohio State last weekend in their Big Ten showdown, either. "The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy if they're just another enemy, too." We think that's the way the saying goes.  Anywho, disregarding our ambivalence about things and people from the Upper Midwest, that matchup between top 5 teams felt like the conference championship to us. And anticlimactic or not, DirecTV viewers will also be shut out from actual Big Ten title game, such as it is, set to air at 8 p.m. EST Saturday, if their satellite TV company doesn't work out some cool rules with Fox ... pronto.

* No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 17 North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game -- Next TV has been down on Clemson all season long, impressing upon anyone who will listen that we weren't surprised at all when Notre Dame took them to the ol' woodshed. We just don't think they're physical enough this year. And we like the Tar Heels' chances of upsetting the Tigers -- a prospect that has to be inspiring to many Charlotte, N.C.-based Dish subscribers who might otherwise enjoy the game on Cox-owned local ABC affiliate WSOC-TV starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. Sure, it's not like they're taking down a Final Four game featuring the Tar Heel hoopsters. But this still matters.

* Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tennessee Titans -- Fox Broadcast has six NFL games across its regional grid Sunday, and this is one of two week 13 contests pitting division leaders against each other. DirecTV subscribers might also miss the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins taking on the NFC West topping San Francisco 49ers, also on Fox. That's not to diminish the other games on Fox this weekend: The Seattle Seahawks visiting the Los Angeles Rams will represent two NFC West teams fighting for their playoff lives. (Next TV's 16-year-old jock son still thinks Seattle coach Pete Carroll is his long lost uncle. During a blowout win during the Pete Carroll era at USC back in the aughts, a joyful Next, perhaps caught up in the moment of a Trojans touchdown as we so often were in those days, may have indicated that bogus family connection in an offhand remark to our impressionable young child. Anyhoo, our young meathead offspring, now teenaged and muscle bound, will be at SoFi Stadium to see his 'Hawks play the disappointing Rams on Sunday, thanks to his GF and her rich, connected talent-agent dad.) Meanwhile, the Washington Commanders visiting the New York Giants has even greater NFC East implications, since those two teams actually seem capable of getting to a Super Bowl. Also on the Fox slate, Next TV can't figure out the terrible in-game coaching decisions made by Detroit coach Dan Campbell, but we love how hard his guys play for him and we can't wait to see the Lions play Jacksonville Sunday. Even the fading Green Bay Packers visiting Chicago, another Fox game, will be interesting. (Will Aaron Rodgers sit down and let Jordan Love take over ... which Next TV thinks has been Green Bay management's secret plan all along, evidenced by they're inexplicably letting Rodgers' preferred target, Davante Adams, just walk out the door last spring?) DirecTV subscribers in Fox O&O markets might miss all of this drama Sunday ... unless they go OTA or have a close friend with a rich, connected father who can get them into the stadium. 

* Cleveland Browns vs. Houston Texans -- Normally, we'd recommend the 4:25 EST game with the other Ohio team, the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals playing the AFC West-topping Kansas City Chiefs. But this marks the Browns debut of controversial quarterback Deshaun Watson, playing his old team in his first NFL game back after serving an 11-game suspension for downright creepy (at best) behavior involving numerous female message therapists. Unfortunately for Dish customers in Dayton, Ohio, unless a deal with Cox Media comes together by Sunday, they won't be able to see either AFC contest on local CBS affiliate WHKO-TV without an over-the-air antenna or a subscription to another pay TV service besides Dish.  ■

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!