Dish Network, DirecTV take retransmission fight public, urge customers to stick around

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and DirecTV each separately offer websites aimed at educating their customers about retransmission negotiations and encouraging them not to switch providers due to programming blackouts.

"Dish's top priority is to provide the best TV experience at the lowest everyday price. When disputes occur with channel owners and their rising prices, this site will keep you informed with the latest updates," reads dishpromise.com.

"We applied best practices used across the industry of pay-TV providers, all of whom share a similar desire to communicate with our customers about retransmission issues," Dish said in a statement to FierceCable. "The site was launched earlier this summer in an effort to consolidate multiple existing online Dish properties into a singular source of information on current retransmission issues."

Dish is currently in negotiations with local TV broadcaster Sinclair Broadcasting over a new retransmission agreement -- the two companies narrowly avoided a blackout of Sinclair's local TV station on Dish's satellite-based pay-TV service on Saturday.

DirecTV is operating a similar website. "DirecTV is committed to bringing you the best TV experience at the most reasonable value. When disputes arise with programmers over their rising prices, this site will keep you up to date with clear and direct information," notes directvpromise.com. A DirecTV representative said the company launched the site four years ago.

However, the site continues to remain relevant: DirecTV this week lost KFMB in San Diego due to a retransmission dispute between the two companies.

Both sites allow customers to check whether their channels are involved in programming disputes. Both sites also strongly discourage customers from switching to other pay-TV providers.

"Switching is never the answer," states the directvpromise.com site. "None of the major TV providers is immune from local stations that feel entitled to shut off their most loyal viewers or manipulate the flow of your favorite shows. Even the highest ranking broadcast officials were forced to admit to Congress that these blackouts are unfair to the average family and so pressure continues to mount in Congress and the FCC to force self-destructive local stations to stop. In the past year, more than 850 mom-and-pop, single community cable operators joined DIRECTV -- their largest competitor -- to help bring an end to local stations treating customers like their personal ATM machines."

"The issue has become so serious in terms of cost and the impact on consumers that the companies are being much more proactive in communicating their concerns to the public and policy makers," said Ted Hearn, vice president of communications at the American Cable Association (ACA). ACA has been working to get regulators involved on the topic on the side of cable operators.

There are a handful of similar sites for consumers that sit on both sides of the issue. For example, TVonmyside.com represents cable operators against "excessive network fee increases from large, powerful media conglomerates." On the other side of the debate, TVfreedom.org presents the case for local TV broadcasters. "In a fair and free market, broadcast TV programming is accessible, valued and fairly compensated as part of retransmission consent agreements," TVfreedom.org states.

As for websites from pay-TV operators, Mediacom's mediacomonyourside.com explains the operator's position on retransmission negotiations. "Through a scheme known as 'bundling,' the big media companies force us to buy their least popular channels in order to get the rights to carry their most popular networks," Mediacom states. "The channel owners realize they are holding consumers hostage with this model, but they simply do not care. Mediacom has no intention of sitting back and letting this to continue to happen to our customers. We have been leading the charge in the fight for fair, transparent, and flexible TV pricing."

Blackouts resulting from retransmission fee negotiations between pay-TV operators and broadcasters are increasing. The American Television Alliance (ATVA) said that there have been almost 65 blackouts so far this year, a record number. The group counted 107 blackouts in 2014, 127 blackouts in 2013 and 91 blackouts in 2012. The situation is such that the FCC is preparing to open an investigation into the topic. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he plans to circulate an order that would remove 50-year-old "exclusivity" laws that restrict operators from importing signals from distant stations during impasses with local broadcasters over retransmission fees.

For more:
- see these two sites

Related articles:
Dish averts mega-blackout, continues retransmission negotiations with Sinclair
FCC's Wheeler thrills pay-TV operators, proposes removal of exclusivity rules from retrans negotiations
Moonves: CBS to make $2B per year in retrans fees and reverse compensation by 2020

Article updated August 20 to correct information.

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