UPDATED 8/16 — Blackout averted temporarily; click here for newer story. SYRACUSE — As of Wednesday evening, management at Fox 68 (WSYT) and My43 (WNYS) say they’re pretty certain both channels will be pulled from Dish Network’s lineup at midnight tonight. That’s when a contract allowing the satellite provider to retransmit the two channels will expire — and with less than an hour to go, there’s still no new contract in place.
The dispute involves not just WSYT and WNYS, but about 70 stations nationwide, all owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Earlier this week, Dish Network issued a statement claiming Sinclair threatened to pull the stations “unless Dish accepts a massive price increase.” In the statement, Dish VP/Programming David Shull claims, “Sinclair is asking for more than any other station anywhere in the country.” He goes on to call Sinclair’s proposal, “profoundly insensitive to the needs of the public.” The Dish Network statement argues that, if it agrees to pay Sinclair more money for the rights to carry these channels, it “will translate into higher fees for customers.”
The following day, Sinclair issued a rebuttal statement, arguing “the prices [Sinclair] is requesting for its extremely popular stations are substantially lower than the amounts Dish is paying for other far less popular channels it carries.” Sinclair goes on to blame “Dish’s flawed economic model that on a relative basis compensates channels with little to no audience share more than the broadcast channels.” Sinclair goes on to point out that its stations will remain available for free over-the-air via antenna, or through competing satellite and landline-based subscription services.
In a later release, Sinclair said it “is continuing to negotiate with Dish, [but] significant doubt exists as to whether or not a new agreement will be reached” before the deadline. “In that event,” Sinclair says, “Dish will discontinue carriage of these stations beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, August 16, 2012.”
History Repeating Itself
If the story sounds familiar, Sinclair was in a similar dispute with Time Warner Cable about a year and a half ago. Both sides got the word out in mid-November 2010, that their contract would be expiring at the end of that year. But when the clock struck midnight to bring in 2011, a series of temporary agreements kept WSYT and WNYS on local lineups until a long-term contract was announced in February.
Retransmission Consent Agreements 101
If you’re a relatively new reader (welcome aboard!), you might be wondering what these disputes are all about. The Federal Communications Commission has a set of regulations which govern the retransmission of local broadcast TV stations by cable, satellite or fiberoptic companies. These “must carry” rules give local broadcasters two options regarding retransmission:
- Must Carry. Any full-power local TV station can declare that the cable or satellite company “must carry” its signal, on the most-basic tier available. But in exchange for basically “forcing” the cable/satellite company to retransmit the signal, the station offers its signal for free.
- Retransmission Fees. Stations also have the option to demand a “retransmission consent” agreement, which usually involves money and/or an agreement to carry other channels (such as digital subchannels, or perhaps a low-power sister station that the cable/satellite company might not otherwise carry). Because stations can ask for anything they want, cable/satellite companies have the right to refuse the request. In these cases, if there’s no agreement in place before the old one expires, the cable/satellite operator must remove the station(s) in question from its lineups.
Whether or not there’s a blackout, one thing is for sure: the specifics of the new deal (whenever one is reached) will not be released to the public.