DISH Network is at risk of losing over 100 local broadcast channels owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The two companies have failed to reach a new retransmission consent agreement, which could result in millions of DISH customers losing their local ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates. According to Sinclair, the blackout could happen as soon as August 16th.
This article will provide the key details on these stalled negotiations, who‘s affected, and alternatives for DISH subscribers to still access local programming if the stalemate continues.
Millions of DISH Subscribers Set to Lose Local Programming
Industry experts estimate that over 3.5 million DISH customers could be impacted if Sinclair makes good on its threat to pull over 100 of its stations from the DISH lineup. This would affect subscribers across 38% of the United States.
To put this in perspective, DISH has lost nearly 5 million satellite TV subscribers since 2017 as consumers cut the cord amid rising prices and streaming competition.
Losing an additional 3.5 million subscribers from cities across dozens of states would significantly degrade their channel offerings. Major metropolitan areas that would lose key local programming include:
- Austin, TX: KEYE (CBS)
- Baltimore, MD: WBFF (FOX), WNUV (CW)
- Buffalo, NY: WUTV (FOX), WNYO (MyTV)
- Charleston, SC: WCIV (ABC)
- Cincinnati, OH: WKRC (CBS)
- Columbus, OH: WSYX (ABC)
- Las Vegas, NV: KSNV (NBC)
- Madison, WI: WMSN (FOX)
- Milwaukee, WI: WVTV (CW)
- Nashville, TN: WZTV (FOX)
- Pittsburgh, PA: WPGH (FOX)
- Raleigh-Durham, NC: WLFL (CW)
- Salt Lake City, UT: KUTV (CBS)
And many others across dozens of states. The Sinclair blackout would cause DISH customers to lose access to critical local news, primetime network shows, live sports, and popular syndicated programming.
Spiraling Retransmission Fees Lead to Impasse
This standoff stems from a growing dispute over retransmission consent fees. DISH and Sinclair negotiators have been trying to hammer out a new agreement for months, but talks recently broke down.
Retransmission consent refers to the rules that allow broadcasters like Sinclair to charge cable and satellite companies for redistribution of their local station signals. When cable TV first emerged in the 1990s, broadcasters were prohibited from collecting these retransmission fees.
But in 1992, lobbying efforts succeeded in establishing retransmission consent under the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. This enabled local stations to begin demanding payment from cable operators as a condition of retransmitting broadcast signals.
Initially, retransmission fees were minimal, costing distributors around $215 million total in 2006. But they‘ve skyrocketed in recent years to billions of dollars industry-wide. By 2022, TV providers will pay an estimated $16 billion in retransmission consent fees.
According to Sinclair, DISH currently pays them approximately $1 billion in annual retransmission fees. But now Sinclair is demanding a massive increase, claiming they‘ve rejected proposals that would cut their rates by over 30%.
DISH fires back that Sinclair‘s financial demands are outrageous and untenable. They amount to nearly a billion dollar increase that DISH says would lead to higher costs for consumers.
This battle over retransmission consent fees plays out between distributors and broadcasters every few years, especially as the number of pay-TV subscribers declines. Broadcasters demand higher per-customer rates to offset losses from cord cutting. Meanwhile, TV providers try to restrain these spiraling costs.
Consumers frequently get caught in the crossfire, losing access to local programming during these disputes. Unfortunately, another high stakes fight may be on the horizon if DISH and Sinclair can‘t compromise before mid-August.
How to Watch Local Channels If Sinclair Pulls Stations from DISH
Losing so many popular local broadcast stations would be a major inconvenience for impacted DISH customers. But you still have alternatives to watch local news and network shows through streaming options. Here are a few suggestions:
Locast is a non-profit streaming service that offers local broadcast stations in 35 US markets. Available on streaming devices, smart TVs and mobile apps, Locast lets you watch local channels online for free. But the service periodically interrupts programming to ask for donations.
- Completely free access to local stations
- Available in 35 markets
- Periodic donation interruptions
- Limited markets compared to alternatives
2. OTA Antenna
Connecting an over-the-air (OTA) antenna to your television lets you access local broadcast stations for free in full HD quality. Useful tools like AntennaWeb help you find which stations are available in your area.
- Totally free after one-time antenna purchase
- Access to all your local channels
- Signal quality varies by location
- Manual scanning required
3. Live TV Streaming Services
Popular live TV streaming providers like YouTube TV, Hulu Live, FuboTV and others offer local broadcast stations in most markets. These services provide a cable-like experience for online streaming.
For example, FuboTV currently offers new users a free 7-day trial. Their entry-level plan includes over 100 channels with local stations from FOX, NBC, CBS and more in many areas. Pricing starts at $69.99/month after the free trial.
- Stream local news and network shows
- Packages with 75+ channels
- Cloud DVR included
- Higher monthly costs
- Local channel availability varies
If local news is your priority, NewsOn offers a free option specifically for that. It‘s an app with local news broadcasts from hundreds of stations around the US. NewsOn supplies live newscasts and recently aired shows on demand from ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates.
- Totally free access
- Local news from major networks
- Limited to news programming
- On demand selection varies
Hopefully DISH and Sinclair reach an amicable solution before the looming blackout deadline. But if the talks continue to stall, impacted DISH customers can turn to streaming alternatives like these to stay informed with local news and network television.
What do you think about the rising retransmission consent fees? Are you a DISH subscriber concerned about losing your local programming? Share your thoughts in the comments!