Sinclair, Dish reach impasse on carriage deal over Bally RSNs

May have complications for Marquee

In what could be a troubling sign for broadcasters and regional sports networks alike, Sinclair Broadcasting apparently threw in the towel with a week to go in negotiations with Dish as 108 local stations faces deletion from the satellite service on August 16.

The company acknowledged such in a press release Monday, noting the chances of striking a deal is “unlikely that a carriage agreement with DISH Network will be reached before the August 16, 2021 expiration of their current agreement for DISH’s carriage of Sinclair’s broadcast stations and Tennis Channel.”

If this goes through, Sinclair will vanish nationwide for eight million Dish customers nationwide including ABC affiliates KDNL in St. Louis and WICD/WICS in the Champaign-Springfield-Decatur area, and CBS affiliate WSBT and its sister Fox station in South Bend, Ind.

Sinclair purchased the Fox Sports regional networks in 2019 and rebranded them as Bally as Dish stopped carrying them two years ago due to the high cost of carriage. Now Sinclair is attempting to tie in the RSNs to their local retransmission consent station deals and the Tennis Channel with cable and satellite providers in order to get them carriage.

One of those RSNs includes the Marquee Sports Network, which is a joint venture between the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair, who handles carriage negotiations on their behalf. Launched in February 2020, Marquee has never been carried on Dish.

In addition to Dish, Sinclair’s RSNs have been shunned by Dish-owned Sling, YouTubeTV, and Hulu Plus Live TV. “We don’t have any customers calling us on RSNs today,” Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen claimed on an earnings conference call Monday. “If the local channels were to go down, we would have more than one customer calling us the next day saying, ‘Where’s my local channel?’”

Dish officials acknowledged the declining ratings local stations and major broadcast networks are experiencing with underperforming for the Tokyo Olympics (just 15.6 million viewers tuned in on average) and other non-NFL sporting events as viewers are pivoting to streaming. Proof the costs involved doesn’t justify carrying them on Dish came last week when Forbes reported on ratings declines for most MLB baseball teams this season compared to 2020 and 2019.

Sinclair is the country’s second-largest broadcast tv station owner, whose local news operations are known for a conservative slant and has attracted tons of controversy. The disappearance from Dish won’t bother more politically liberal and moderate viewers, who would get their network programming elsewhere anyway given almost all non-sports programming are streaming on one or more platforms. For example, Dish embeds local streaming TV service Locast on all of its systems where it is available, including Sinclair markets such as Washington D.C., Baltimore, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, among others.

Even more cumbersome, Sinclair is developing a stand-alone RSN streaming app – a development cable and satellite executives are not happy with.

Granted, there is still time to strike a deal so anything but happen. But if Sinclair removes their channels from Dish, it could be a long time for them to return – Both HBO and Univision were off for long periods of time only to return recently and Tegna stations are still off Mediacom eight months after they were pulled off.

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