Dish Backs Broadcaster Antenna Giveaway

Satellite program distributor Dish has very publicly endorsed the latest broadcaster free over-the-air (OTA) antenna giveaway, but as a way to make a point about retrans blackouts., which has battled MVPDs over retrans issues, is once again teaming with antenna manufacturer Antennas Direct and Sinclair on the giveaway. Starting with Sinclair's KATV Little Rock, this Friday (Aug. 19), they will launch a five-state, five-city “Broadcast TV Liberation Tour,” with added stops in Macon, Ga; Charleston, S.C.; Asheville, N.C.; and Baltimore.

But while broadcasters are looking to "inform consumers that they can access dozens of local broadcast TV channels via an advanced digital antenna in high-definition for free," Dish is using the campaign to make a point in its ongoing retrans impasse with Tribune.

“It’s smart,” said Dish EVP Warren Schlichting, DISH EVP of marketing, programming and media sales. “The country’s 90 million pay-TV customers, all of whom pay retransmission fees for local broadcast stations, are frustrated by rising costs and channel blackouts. Complementing the pay TV experience, which includes the increasing adoption of streaming services like Sling TV, Sony Vue, Hulu and Netflix, is good business and may drive a solution to the otherwise compounding problem of ever-rising retransmission consent fees for local TV.”

Dish has already been conducting something of a liberation tour of its own, pointing out that it has handed out $7 million worth of antennas to its customers since Tribune pulled the signals of 42 stations in 33 markets to Dish customers June 12 after the two sides failed to reach a new deal.

"Dish has embraced this approach having distributed $7 million worth of OTA antennas to affected customers this summer since Tribune Broadcasting blacked out

“Sinclair is on the right track for consumers and we’d encourage Tribune to follow its example,” said  Schlichting.

Schlichting also said that the two sides are at the table and "continue to progress" on their retrans negotiations.

“Tribune is back at the table and we are making headway that I am hopeful will get these channels back to our customers soon,” Schlichting said. “Regrettably, Tribune had stopped negotiating for five weeks, delaying a resolution."

“Tribune Media has been in continuous negotiations with Dish since being forced off its distribution system on June 12," Tribune said in its statement. "To say otherwise is patently false, and further evidence of Dish’s willingness to mislead its customers and our viewers. To be clear, despite Tribune Media’s best efforts, an agreement with Dish is not imminent, and Dish subscribers should consider switching providers before the start of football’s regular season in a few weeks.”

A source familiar with Tribune's role in the negotiations, speaking on background, said there was a face-to-face meeting between negotiating teams as recently as July 26 and that their respective CEOs have met and talked several times.

Tribune has taken out ads in eight markets to run through Sunday, telling Dish subs they need to switch providers and "voice their complaints" to Dish if they want to be sure they get football.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.