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This is Why There Are More Network Blackouts Than Ever

Jason Gurwin

Over the past few months, we’ve seen channels dropped across the cable, satellite, and streaming industries — most frequently local channels. In the last few months, DirecTV dropped Nexstar affiliates, CBS O&O locals, and CBS in its entirety on DIRECTV NOW. This came after a dispute with smaller station owners Northwest Broadcasting, Deerfield Media, Roberts Media, Second Generation of Iowa, GoCom Media, MPS Media, Howard Stirk Holding, and Waitt Broadcasting — which saw their local channels disappear.

But they’re not the only ones. Dish has dropped Meredith affiliates and had a 9 month battle with Univision which saw the channel go dark across Dish — and to ultimately never return to their streaming service Sling TV. AT&T-owned HBO and Cinemax were dropped by Dish in November. In April, PlayStation Vue dropped NESN from their streaming service, after having a lengthy dispute with Sinclair last year.

AT&T renewed deals with Viacom and A+E at the wire, but dropped NFL Network earlier this year. Just yesterday, Dish and Disney agreed to an temporary extension to avoid a blackout of most notably Fox RSNs and YES Network. Sling TV and Dish also had expiring deals with other channels now owned by Disney including FX and National Geographic. and those that remained with Fox Corp. like Fox, Fox News, Fox Business Network and FS1.

According to a report in Variety, quoting the American Television Alliance, the industry has seen 213 blackouts in 2019 — up from just eight in 2010 and 164 last year. While content disputes have happened across locals, sports, and entertainment — it’s locals and regional sports where the biggest disputes have occurred. And it comes down to costs, at least in terms of locals, for something that previously was free.

Last May, Sling Group President and Dish Exec Warren Schlichting hinted that bundle prices were not sustainable with local channels. Retransmission fees — or the amount that cable and streaming providers pay for local affiliates — had increased from $215 million in 2006 to almost $11 billion in 2017. Dish estimated that locals added about $12-15 to the cost of the bundle.

Ultimately, this gets passed onto the consumer as part of their cable bill as a Broadcast Fee or as part of a price hike on their streaming bundle. These are channels that consumers used to get for free from their antenna.

And while you still can, viewers end up eating the cost because their antenna can’t get a clear signal or it’s just easier to have it integrated into their interface. While there have been attempts to go around this, none have reached the scale that is a solution for every consumers. So far now, disputes will continue until the industry can’t continue support the price hikes, or the government steps in on behalf of the consumer.

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