Fox cuts Dish feed for FX, sports channels
Tens of thousands of baseball and college football fans could well be left in the lurch this weekend as a result of an increasingly contentious tug-of-war over price hikes between Fox and satellite broadcaster Dish Network.
Fox cut the feed to Dish for several of its cable networks Friday, including FX, National Geographic Channel and 19 regional sports channels such as Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. Those channels are scheduled to broadcast this weekend’s Angels and Dodgers season-ending baseball games as well as the college football contest between UCLA and Washington State, among other events.
Although the Dodgers and Angels are not in contention for the playoffs, Dish subscribers in other parts of the country could miss out on some nail-biting action. For example, in southwest Florida the Tampa Bay Rays are battling for the American League East crown, but their games at Kansas City this weekend will be on the Fox regional channels.
Disputes between programmers and distributors such as Dish are becoming increasingly common. Media companies want more money for their popular programming as production costs climb. However, cable and satellite operators have vigorously resisted substantial fee hikes at a time when customers have alternatives to their services.
“We are seeing these disputes break out everywhere,” said Derek Baine, television analyst with the consulting firm SNL Kagan. “Dish Network has been trying to keep the cost of their packages low, but cable channels are spending more on programming and they want to be compensated.”
Already this year, Walt Disney Co. yanked its ABC signal from New York-based Cablevision for several hours on the day ABC televised the Academy Awards ceremony. Last month, Hallmark Channel took its signal away from AT&T’s U-Verse television service.
Dish Network has 14.3 million customers nationwide. Programming from Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network and local Fox TV stations were not part of the contract being negotiated. Later this month, however, the two companies will wrestle over payments for the Fox stations that carry “Glee” and the World Series.
Each company Friday sought to cast the other as the greedy villain.
“These take-downs are painful for the customers, but we can’t continue to pass along these huge increases to our customers,” said Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming for Dish Network. “We have been paying Fox very healthy rates for years now, and it would be irresponsible for us not to take decisive action at this point.”
A sticking point in negotiations has been the channels’ positioning in Dish Network’s programming levels. Dish does not make FX,
National Geographic or Fox’s sports networks available to customers who buy a basic programming package. Rather the channels are available only in more expensive packages.
“We think all customers should get access to our programming,” said Mike Hopkins, president of Fox Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing. If Dish wants to keep the channels on a more expensive tier of service, “then Dish should pay a fair price for that.”