Sinclair pulls plug on Dish in largest local channel blackout



| 27 August 2015

Just when it seemed that peace had broken out, Sinclair Broadcasting has taken the nuclear option in its now rather ugly retrans row with US satellite operator DISH Network.

Despite reaching an agreement on rates and all other terms for the carriage of its local stations, Sinclair Broadcast Group pulled the plug on the deal and brought about what the satellite firm says is the largest local channel blackout in the history of US television.

In a war of words what can't be denied is that Sinclair has blocked Dish customers' access to 129 local channels in 79 markets across 36 states and the District of Columbia.

Dish lost no time in serving out a torrent of vituperation regarding the move. Commenting on the breakdown, it said that it and Sinclair had been making steady progress in their recent negotiations, and that it had been hopeful that they would come to a mutual agreement to renew carriage of the Sinclair local stations.

Dish said it had offered another short-term contract extension to Sinclair that would, it claimed, include a retroactive "true-up" when new rates were agreed upon, and would preserve the ability of Dish customers to access the Sinclair local stations while negotiations continued. Dish asserted that the "true-up" would ensure that Sinclair was made whole at the new rates for the period of any contract extension.

"We have agreed to rates and all terms to carry Sinclair's local stations," said Warren Schlichting, Dish senior vice president of programming. "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."

Dish had already filed a complaint with US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to intervene to protect consumers from the actions of Sinclair. Dish said it now intends to amend the complaint to include allegations stemming from Sinclair's decision to blackout the channels.