Nearly 4 million Dish Network subscribers in 18 cities, including Los Angeles, have lost access to their local CBS television station — just two days before Thanksgiving, when many Americans want to watch NFL football.
The blackout comes amid a contentious fee dispute between satellite TV provider Dish Network and CBS Corp., which owns the television stations. Customers in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Miami, San Francisco, Denver and other markets also were hit by the blackout, which in addition to the local stations includes three CBS cable channels: CBS Sports Network, Smithsonian Channel and Pop.
Dish has nearly 400,000 subscriber homes in the greater Los Angeles area.
“Dish subscribers are in jeopardy of being without CBS over the Thanksgiving holiday, which would mean they would miss CBS Sports’ NFL and SEC football coverage,” CBS said in a statement.
CBS is set to broadcast the NFL matchup between the Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
“I am very upset. Why does the customer always have to suffer in these situations?” asked Jerry Horn, a Dish customer in Narrowsburg, N.Y. “We pay the bills. … Keep us connected during contract disputes!”
The outage knocked WCBS-TV Channel 2 in New York — one of Horn’s favorite stations — from his channel offerings. “I am going to miss ‘NCIS,’ ‘Bull’ and ‘NCIS New Orleans,’ ” Horn said, referencing popular CBS shows.
The outage began at 11 p.m. PST on Monday. That’s when the companies’ previous carriage contract expired, leaving Dish without authorization to retransmit the signals of CBS stations. The two sides had been trying to hammer out a new contract since January with little progress.
“We thought we were making good progress,” said Warren Schlichting, Dish’s executive vice president of marketing, programming and media sales. “But then late [Monday] night, CBS stopped talking and wouldn’t accept our offer for an extension.”
Dish immediately struck back, offering to install an over-the-air antenna for most customers affected by the outage so they could continue to receive CBS. The satellite TV provider also promised to reduce subscribers’ bills by $10 per month if they agreed to drop the local TV stations from their lineup.
Dish blamed the dispute on CBS’ demands for 40% higher retransmission fees even as viewership has declined. Such higher broadcast fees are contributing to the steady increases in pay-TV bills. Dish has been struggling to contain programming costs as it loses customers.
“We are ready to negotiate an agreement that promptly returns this content to Dish’s programming lineup,” Schlichting said. “But it is a different world than it was three years ago, and it feels like CBS is trying to hold back the tide.”
The Englewood, Colo.-based satellite TV company noted, in a statement, that CBS has boasted on its earnings calls with analysts that it will generate $2.5 billion a year in retransmission fees for its stations by 2020 — up from $250 million a year in 2012.
“The rate being sought by CBS clearly seems to be the biggest issue for Dish,” Wells Fargo Securities media analyst Marci Ryvicker said in a report Tuesday.
Dish, in its statement, added: “Those desired increases come as Dish customers are watching less CBS.” According to Dish, average viewership for CBS is down 20% over the last three years.