Dish gets itself into yet another blackout with Lockwood fee fight

Dish executive VP of programming Warren Schlichting (Dish Network)

Dish Network finds itself in yet another small-market retrans tussle, with four Lockwood Broadcasting channels moved, at least for now, off the satellite TV company’s program guide. 

As first reported by TV Answerman blogger Phillip Swan, the stations include ABC affiliate KAKE-TV in Witchita, Kansas; CW affiliate WHDF-TV in Florence, Alabama; CW station WCWG-TV in Lexington, North Carolina; and NBC affiliate KTEN-TV in Ada, Oklahoma.

“Dish Network and Lockwood Broadcasting, Inc. have reached an impasse in negotiating a renewal of the agreement providing for carriage of (the stations)…on Dish Network’s satellite system,” a notice on Lockwood’s station websites reads. “As a result, [the stations are] no longer being carried by Dish.”

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"With Dish willing to grant an extension and a retroactive true-up on rates, Lockwood had nothing to lose and consumers had everything to gain by leaving the channels up,” Dish senior VP of programming Andy LeCuyer said in a statement provided to Multichannel News. “Instead, Lockwood chose to turn its back on its public interest obligations and use innocent consumers as bargaining chips. Only Lockwood can choose to remove its stations from Dish’s channel lineup."

On its KTEN website, Lockwood warned that it did not believe a deal would be reached soon, and urged customers to find alternative viewing options for the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 and the Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 9. The station also characterized the impasse as a classic case of a large conglomerate taking advantage of a small town business.

“Our company is a small, family-owned broadcaster, one of the few still left in America,” Lockwood said on its KTEN website. “KTEN has been a part of Lockwood Broadcasting since 1998. Dish Network is a multibillion-dollar company that reported revenue of $3.6 billion in just the third quarter of 2017. We think you can see where this is going.”

Dish has yet to report fourth-quarter earnings, but its total customer losses for 2017 are expected to far surpass 1 million. 

Yet the satellite TV company has sustained its aggressive posture in terms of program licensing negotiations, resulting in a steady stream of program interruptions for its customers. Here are just a few of the skirmishes the pay TV operator has been involved with recently:

> In April, 33 Hearst Broadcasting stations in 26 markets were blacked out on Dish for nearly a month and a half. 

> In August, Dish began handing out over-the-air antennas in Providence, Rhode Island, as a looming blackout of Citadel Communications channels approached. 

> In November, Dish ended a three-day blackout with CBS Corp. with a deal that once again failed to include a retrains deal for its Sling TV virtual platform.

> In December, Dish ended a two-month blackout of Lilly Broadcasting, which affected stations spanning from Puerto Rico to Hawaii to New York.

For its part, and despite the sustained heavy customer losses, Dish seems to believe its pugilistic posture is a rationale response befitting a market governed by outdated legislation. 

Last spring, Dish executive VP of programming Warren Schlichting sent a letter to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat representing the Silicon Valley region, urging her to initiate changes in the retransmission consent regime Congress passed in 1992. 

“Broadcasters continue to use their in-market monopoly power to put profits ahead of their public interest obligations,” Schlichting wrote. "The proof is in the numbers: Consumers have suffered more than 750 broadcaster blackouts since 2010, and the retransmission consent fees that broadcasters demand grew 27,400% between 2005 and 2016. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in Congress to revamp the out-of-date laws that drive these high fees and unnecessary blackouts.”