Satellite broadcaster Dish Network began putting contingencies in place for a potential carriage dispute with Hearst Television as early as July, according to a video reviewed by The Desk.
The video shows Dish’s Chief Networking Officer Gary Schanman offering customers the company’s perspective on the dispute, which centers around programming-related fees paid to Hearst and which started earlier this month.
The notice was uploaded to a YouTube channel called “Dish Channel Expirations” in July, but was marked as “unlisted,” meaning it wasn’t available to view by anyone who did not already know the precise web address where the video was located. It was eventually embedded on the Dish website once a contract between it and Hearst expired, which forced Dish to drop more than three dozen Hearst-owned local television stations across the country.
“Hearst is demanding we pay significantly higher fees for the same channels you are currently enjoying,” Schanman said in the July video. “We feel this is unfair, and our commitment is to stand up for our customers, especially because this increase directly affects you. If it were up to us, we would keep prices flat across the board.”
Carriage disputes like the one between Dish and Hearst have become more common in recent years as broadcasters seek more money from cable and satellite providers for their portfolio of channels. Disputes involving satellite broadcasters like Dish tend to be particularly disruptive, because they have the potential to impact customers in all 50 states.
Dish has been particularly aggressive in rejecting demands for higher programming fees, opting to drop channels it feels are of lower value to customers. Dish stopped offering regional sports channels in 2021, when it allowed a contract with New England Sports Network (NESN) to expire. And Dish currently doesn’t offer local station owned by Cox Media Group, Mission Broadcasting or White Knight Broadcasting due to retransmission disputes that are similar to its situation with Hearst.
Negotiations for programming rights are typically shrouded in secrecy, in that the public typically has little advanced notice that access to their local news, sports and entertainment channels are going to be dropped from a cable and satellite service until just a few days before it happens.
The Dish video offers some rare insight into the timing of these negotiations with programmers: The comments made by Schanman in the video and its uploading in July indicates the two sides had been discussing terms for a new carriage deal since at least that month, and Hearst had already made its intention to get more money for its channels known.
There were also indications last week that Dish and Hearst had reached an impasse before the channels were pulled: On Wednesday, the website of a Hearst-owned local TV station in Iowa published a draft press release from Hearst that warned viewers of a pending carriage dispute with Dish. The release, which was never distributed to reporters, was quickly pulled from the website after both sides hammered out a temporary agreement that kept Hearst stations on Dish through Friday afternoon. (The timing was not coincidental: Hearst did not want its local NBC stations to suffer the effects of a programming blackout on Dish the same week that NBC was set to host the National Football League’s inaugural football game of the season, according to a source familiar with the issue.)
On a website called “Dish Promise,” the satellite broadcaster said it hoped customers would continue their subscription, rather than switch to a competing service, in order to send a message to Hearst and other programmers that their demands for higher fees were unreasonable.
“Switching TV providers gives channel owners validation of what they are demanding, and encourages them to raise rates,” Dish said on the website. “Sticking with Dish tells channel owners that they need to be reasonable and fair.”
Officials at Hearst do not deny they are asking for more money, but say Dish’s counter-proposals are far below what the company feels is acceptable for their channels.
“Dish is seeking the right to carry our stations at below market rates, which is neither fair nor reasonable,” a spokesperson for Hearst said earlier this month.
Dish customers who are affected by the dispute can receive Hearst-owned stations for free with a conventional, over-the-air antenna. Hearst stations also stream their local newscasts through the free Very Local app and via third-party, ad-supported streaming services like NewsOn and Tubi.