HBO and Cinemax went dark on Dish Network and Sling TV, and the carriage dispute quickly escalated into a sharp war of words, drawing the AT&T-Time Warner deal into the mix.
Dish Network accused AT&T of making “untenable demands,” which it said harm consumers, particularly in rural areas, and competing pay TV providers.
"Plain and simple, the merger created for AT&T immense power over consumers," said Andy LeCuyer, Dish senior vice president of programming, in a statement. "It seems AT&T is implementing a new strategy to shut off its recently acquired content from other distributors. This may be the first of many HBO blackouts for consumers across the country. AT&T no longer has incentive to come to an agreement on behalf of consumer choice; instead, it's been given the power to grab more money or steal away customers."
Dish said that AT&T is demanding that Dish pay for a guaranteed number of HBO subscribers. The company accused AT&T of trying to use increased HBO rates at Dish to subsidize free streaming services for its wireless subscribers and generally lower streaming service rates.
HBO responded by saying that in its more than 40 years of operation, it has always been able to reach agreements with distributors, but that Dish is being “extremely difficult” and is responding to good faith negotiations with “unreasonable terms.”
“Past behavior shows that removing services from their customers is becoming all too common a negotiating tactic for them. We hope the situation with Dish changes soon but, in the meantime, our valued customers should take advantage of the other ways to access an HBO subscription so they can continue to enjoy our acclaimed programming," HBO said.
Dish said that it would credit Dish Network and Sling TV subscribers for any time during which they don’t receive HBO or Cinemax.
The dispute between Dish and HBO isn’t necessarily surprising, as Dish has earned a reputation as a pay TV provider willing to engage in contentious carriage negotiations—which often result in channel blackouts—with broadcasters and programmers.
But Dish’s and AT&T’s rift goes a little deeper. Dish was one of the most vocal opponents of AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.
The U.S. Justice Department challenged the merger in court earlier this year, but a federal judge ruled that the acquisition could continue as planned without any conditions.
The DOJ is appealing the decision and oral arguments in the appeal are scheduled to be heard on Dec. 6, 2018.