Dish: Sinclair Blackout Due to Content Aspirations

Dish Network claims that its most recent retransmission consent dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group hinges on the station owner’s desire to start its own pay TV channel.

According to Dish, it had agreed to terms for all of Sinclair’s 129 stations in 79 markets across the country. But the station owner insisted that an unnamed cable channel – which it doesn’t own but someday hopes to own – would be included in the mix. When Dish declined to do that, the stations went dark to their subscribers.

Dish and Sinclair had been operating under a mutually agreed-upon extension to their earlier retrans deal since Aug.16.

Dish did not identify what the pay TV channel in question was, but Sinclair has made no secret of its content aspirations. Last year the station group formed its own original content division – Sinclair Original Programing – aimed at creating shows for its MyNetworkTV and The CW-affiliated stations. The company also owns NewsChannel 8, a Washington, D.C. metro area cable news channel that it hoped to expand to other areas and has launched Ring of Honor Wrestling and the American Sports Network, which airs high-school and Division I NCAA college sports contests.

“We have agreed to rates and all terms to carry Sinclair’s local stations,” said Dish senior vice president of programming Warren Schlichting in a statement. “But Sinclair is blacking out 129 local stations in an effort to negotiate a carriage agreement for an unrelated cable channel that it hopes to acquire, but does not own today. Sinclair rejected our extension offer and has chosen to use innocent consumers as pawns to gain leverage for the economic benefit of Sinclair, while causing substantial harm and disruption to the lives of consumers.”

Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber did not return a call for comment, but on its station websites the station group claimed that the dispute is not just about price.

“Although we do not believe it is productive to negotiate its private business relationships in the public, the inability to reach agreement with Dish Network is about more than just money," Sinclair said on its station websites, adding, “We do not know if or when Dish will resume carriage of these stations.”

The blackout, which Dish has called the largest in history, comes about two weeks before the National Football League kicks off its regular season on Sept. 10. Sinclair owns several CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC affiliated stations across the country, the primary broadcasters of NFL games.