On a conference call with investors and reporters this week, Dish Network corporate chairman Charlie Ergen said the company was able to save money and increase revenue and profits by dropping 16 regional Fox Sports networks last year.
The channels were acquired by the Walt Disney Company after it acquired numerous assets from Fox Corporation. Federal regulators required Disney to sell the regional sports networks (RSNs) as a condition of approving the deal; Disney later sold the channels to Sinclair Broadcasting Group for $9.6 billion.
Dish Network’s contract over the sports network came for renewal during Disney’s ownership of the channels, and the company promptly dropped them after Disney demanded more money for carriage. The channels were dropped from Dish’s satellite system and its over-the-top Internet TV service Sling TV on July 26.
Ergen said Dish would like to make a deal with Sinclair to bring the channels back, but said time is no longer of the essence: Customers who wanted the channels have dropped Dish and Sling for other options, and those who have stuck with the service aren’t watching sports, according to Dish’s metrics.
“Today on our network, we may have people who want to watch regional sports, but it’s a fraction of what it was last August,” Ergen said. “The programmers have a hard time understanding that, once somebody leaves [Dish], there’s no reason to put something back and tax the rest of the [customers] because the people who really watch the channel leave us because they have alternatives.”
If Dish were to ink a deal with Sinclair for the channels, it would likely result in Dish having to raise subscription fees for customers, Ergen hinted. He said most customers start to forget they have certain channels after they’ve been unavailable for a month, and those who do want them look elsewhere.
Sinclair’s Fox-branded RSNs together offer games from 44 professional basketball, baseball and hockey teams along with coverage of smaller professional and semi-professional teams in other sports. They’re an attractive option for sports enthusiasts, but even sports-focused pay TV providers are having a hard time justifying the expense that Sinclair is demanding of them in exchange for the rights to carry the channels.
Earlier this year, sports-centric Fubo TV announced it would no longer carry the Fox-branded RSNs, making the channels unavailable on one of the biggest sports-centric streaming TV providers. Currently, customers who want to watch the channels have three options: Pay for YouTube TV ($50 a month), pay for Hulu with Live TV ($55 a month), or get service from a local cable company or DirecTV.