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Dish Network pulls NBC Sports regional networks, proposes a-la-carte solution

Satellite television service Dish Network pulled several NBC Sports-branded networks on Thursday after a carriage agreement to distribute the channels to subscribers lapsed without an extension or renewal.

The move affects more than a dozen Comcast-owned NBC Sports-branded regional sports networks [RSNs] across 10 states along with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), Dish Network said in a statement.

The channels were dropped from the company’s flagship satellite television service as well as Sling TV, Dish Network’s streaming-only service.

“The current RSN model is fundamentally broken,” Brian Neylon, a Dish Network executive, said in a statement.

Dish Network has been aggressive in rebuking demands from network programmers like Comcast and Sinclair Broadcast Group regarding regional sports networks, opting to drop them instead of charging all subscribers to the benefit of a few.

“As the cost of these channels continues to escalate, we no longer think it makes sense to include them in our TV lineup,” Neylon said.

For this reason, Dish Network is proposing that the programmers of regional sports networks allow the satellite service and others to offer the channels a-la-carte, a model that allows customers to pay for certain extra channels that they want to watch.

“With this updated RSN model, no customer would be forced to pay for content they don’t watch, and the RSNs would determine the price customers would pay for their channels,” Neylon said.

Programmers have had little incentive to offer an a-la-carte model for their channels, choosing instead to force distributors like Dish Network to forge carriage agreements that ensure a steady flow of revenue, whether customers actually receive the channels or not.

Dish Network and others have responded to this demand by charging customers a separate regional sports fee if their programming package gives them access to one or more of these networks. Rather than charge based on the cost of the network, distributors typically charge a flat fee across the board.

That, coupled with rising program costs in other areas of the pay television space, has led customers to “cut the cord” for cheaper, online-only offerings from startup streaming services — though these, too, are starting to get expensive.

Dish Network said it pitched the a-la-carte proposal to Comcast for its NBC Sports-branded regional networks, but so far the company has refused to commit to it.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).