NBC threatens blackout if Dish fails to strike deal

Dish Network subscribers who want to tune in to NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” or the breakout hit “Little Big Shots” might be out of luck this weekend.

A blackout of NBC-owned TV stations and some of NBC Universal's cable channels is on the horizon for millions of Dish subscribers Sunday if the two companies fail to ink a new carriage contract.

NBC on Monday launched a broad-based messaging campaign to inform the public that Dish could drop its portfolio of networks. The campaign features a website where Dish subscribers can learn more about the dispute, as well as TV commercials, social media alerts, radio spots and text crawls at the bottom of the TV screen that will run during network programming.

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Dish did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The potential outage would mean that customers of the satellite TV giant in the metropolitan Los Angeles region would no longer receive the two NBC-owned stations — KNBC-TV Channel 4 and Spanish-language network Telemundo — as part of their Dish programming packages.

Los Angeles is Dish’s largest market with nearly 500,000 subscribers. But the blackout would affect millions of Dish customers around the country.

Without an agreement in place, Dish wouldn't be authorized to retransmit signals of 26 television stations owned by NBC — 10 NBC stations and 16 Telemundo stations — in such markets as New York City, Dallas, Chicago and Miami. The blackout would also affect NBC Universal’s cable channels: USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC.

“We are disappointed that Dish would deny its subscribers access to valuable programming on NBC, Telemundo, USA, Syfy, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and more,” NBC said in a statement. “NBCUniversal has the most-watched portfolio in the U.S. and on Dish systems, including the No. 1 broadcast network, the No. 1 cable entertainment network, and NBCUniversal is No. 1 in news and late-night television.”

Dish and NBC have been negotiating a new contract for several weeks, but there has been little progress, according to a person close to NBC, so the company is worried they might soon reach an impasse.

The two sides have been clashing over several issues, including retransmission fees that NBC collects when pay-TV providers retransmit its station signals. Viewers who want access to NBC or Telemundo can watch the channels for free with an antenna.

The dispute is the latest dust-up between pay TV providers and programmers. Recent weeks have seen disputes between AT&T and Univision, as well as Comcast and Fox’s Yankee’s network YES. 

Such clashes have increased as networks look to find ways to pay for rising programming costs. Programming fees, as a result, have increased in recent years. Most dramatic among the hikes have been the fees that broadcast stations, such as NBC, charge pay TV operators for the right to re-broadcast their signals.

Ten years ago, pay TV operators paid broadcasters $200 million in so-called retransmission fees. In 2015, that number had swelled to $6.3 billion and is expected to increase to nearly $9 billion by 2018, according to media research firm  SNL Kagan.

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