Defiant Dish Could Be Losing Leverage

Fox Networks’ carriage
dispute with Dish Network entered
its seventh day last week
with sometimes controversial
media analyst Richard Greenfield joining the fray, warning
that with the professional hockey
and basketball seasons starting
soon, the satellite giant’s leverage
in negotiations could be
quickly eroding.

As Greenfield, of BTIG, said,
the National Hockey League
was scheduled to begin its season
Oct. 7 and the National Basketball
Association season tips
off Oct. 26. As part of its carriage
dispute with Dish, Fox removed
19 regional sports networks, FX
and National Geographic Channel
from the satellite-TV lineup
on Oct. 1.

Greenfield also pointed out a
potential source of embarrassment:
Dish is the official TV provider
of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues,
whose games are aired over Fox
Sports Midwest, a regional network
not available on Dish, as
part of the dispute.

Adding to the embarrassment is
that the Blues have adorned their
arena — Scottrade Center in St.
Louis — with a banner urging
fans to switch to Dish Network.

Just imagine walking up to the
Scottrade Center for the first St.
Louis Blues game this Saturday
night and seeing the huge Dish ad
plastered on the side of the building
saying ‘Switch. Save. Score!
Dish — The Official TV Provider
of the St. Louis Blues’ with Fox
Sports Midwest currently unavailable
to Dish subs,” Greenfield wrote.

Dish’s sports problems don’t
end with Fox. The No. 2 satellite-
TV distributor also is feuding with
Madison Square Garden Network,
which airs New York Rangers, Buffalo
Sabres and New Jersey Devils
NHL games and New York Knicks
National Basketball Association
games. MSG and MSG Plus have
been unavailable to Dish customers
since Oct. 1 as well.

So far, Dish has claimed that
Fox’s demands for carriage-fee
increases are exorbitant (which
Fox denies) and says it will not
give in to bullying tactics.

“Look, it would be easy for us to
cave into Fox demands, but that
would result in fewer choices and
higher prices for you,” Dish chairman
Charlie Ergen said in a video
message to subscribers.

During the Fox “lockout,” he
said, Dish is making 20 additional
channels available to customers
at no charge, including NFL
Network and NHL Network.

If the Fox dispute continues,
Greenfield pointed out, Dish’s
sports drought will only get
worse next month, when its carriage
agreement with Fox broadcasting
expires. Fox TV stations in
19 markets, including New York,
Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit
and Philadelphia, would be affected.
If those stations go off the
air, Dish customers risk losing
National Football League games
and Games 5 through 7 (if necessary)
of Major League Baseball’s
World Series.

Greenfield seemed puzzled at
Dish’s strategy in these negotiations.
Ergen’s outfit is struggling to
add subscribers in a weak economy
and has never carried the New
York-based RSN YES Network,
owned by baseball’s Yankees.

“While you might say Ergen will
have to cave in by the time the local
broadcast agreement comes
up, what’s the benefit of going
dark for four weeks and losing
subs, only to ultimately pay
Fox what they are demanding,”
Greenfield said in a note. “We
can only presume he is prepared
to be dark for the long haul.”

Fox also had a high-profile
skirmish with Time Warner
Cable in January. Coming up,
retransmission agreements between
Fox-owned WNYW (Fox)
and WWOR (MyNetworkTV) in
the New York metropolitan area
with Cablevision Systems expire
on Oct. 15.