It’s certainly been a bumpy year for Dish when it comes to preventing its customers, by law, from receiving broadcast TV stations in the absence of a fresh retransmission consent agreement.
Just hours before Santa Claus’ COVID-19 clearance to arrive in homes across the globe, it reached a new carriage agreement with Nexstar Media Group, ending three weeks and one day of a “blackout” of every Nexstar-owned free-to-air station — and the WGN America cable network — on Dish.
This followed the Sunday, Dec. 14, announcement that after nearly five months without a carriage deal, Cox Media Group finally signed a new agreement with Dish.
And, it came in a year that saw Dish — over Labor Day weekend — end a five-week retrans impasse with The E.W. Scripps Co. that led to a “blackout” on Dish.
Add to the mix a $210 million settlement of a telemarketing lawsuit brought against the direct broadcast satellite services provider by a host of states, reached in early December.
With 2021 just two days away, what more could Dish deal with as its stock struggles to overcome a five-year low?
Just ask the owners of a trio of TV stations that have taken the lead in the rollout of NEXTGEN TV and ATSC 3.0.
In a carefully worded press release distributed Tuesday evening, Dish accused Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting of taking its stations away from Dish customers, “ignoring DISH’s calls for a contract extension this holiday season.”
Now, WRAL-5 and WRAZ-50, the NBC and FOX affiliates in Raleigh-Durham, respectively, are effectively blocked from Dish subscribers across the Triangle region of North Carolina. Unaffiliated WILM-10 in Wilmington, N.C., has also been blocked from Dish subscribers.
With typical bravado, Dish put the blame on a TV station owner.
“We don’t understand why Capitol Broadcasting has chosen to put our customers in the middle of these negotiations,” said Melisa Boddie, Dish’s Programming Vice President. “We offered an extension to keep these stations up for customers while negotiations continued, but Capitol never responded. Instead, they ignored our offer and forced a blackout of three North Carolina TV stations.”
Dish says it remains open to working with Capitol Broadcasting “to reach a fair, long-term deal and hopes to restore these channels to customers soon.”
But the definition of “fair” greatly varies between the MVPD and the free-to-air TV station owner.
As WRAL News Director Rick Gall sees it, “After weeks of negotiations, Dish and Capitol have not come to terms on a new contract.”
As such, Capitol’s trio of stations faded to black on Dish as of 5pm, December 29.
And, Capitol President/COO Jimmy Goodmon says, “WRAL and FOX50 are not pushing for things that are unreasonable. We are asking to be paid market rate for our programming so we can pay the affiliation fees required by NBC and FOX. This isn’t about greed; it’s about survival for our small, locally owned media company. Now, more than ever, local television news and original programming is a critical service to our community.”
Goodmon and his WRAL & WRAZ have been essential wheels in the voluntary rollout of the next-generation broadcast TV standard, powered by ATSC 3.0 technology. WRAL is one of the first stations to broadcast in ATSC 3.0, launching an experimental station in June 2016. In 2014, it became the first local broadcast station to produce programming in the 4K Ultra High Definition format. Six years earlier, at the 2008 NAB Show in Las Vegas, WRAL-5 deployed Harmonic Inc.‘s digital video solutions were deployed for the first time, used to provide real-time broadcast delivery of four simultaneous basketball games in 1080i HD format to a regional cable operator during the recent NCAA National Collegiate Basketball Tournament
And, in 2009, Capitol Broadcasting worked with the City of Raleigh on the nation’s first public deployment of broadcast DTV to mobile devices. The venture delivered real-time digital television and interactive data to Capital Area Transit (CAT) buses serving passengers throughout the capital city.
WRAL also took center stage in February 2018 by gathering hundreds to watch live action of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games from PyeongChang, South Korea, as delivered in the “next gen” ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard that TV stations can now voluntarily roll out, with 4K UHD video and other heralded advances put to the test in partnership with NBC Universal and the NAB. The event also included the inaugural over-the-air broadcast of the new Dolby AC4 format, using LDM (Layer Division Multiplexing) technology, along with other new interactive applications designed to enhance the broadcast TV experience for viewers.
In addition to its TV holdings, Capitol owns and operates WRAL-FM “Mix 101.5,” WCMC-FM “WRAL SportsFan 99.9,” WDNC-AM “ESPN Triangle 620,” WCLY-AM 1550 “The Ticket,” and Wolfpack Sports Properties (a joint venture with Learfield) in Raleigh; WILM-LD 10 and Sunrise Broadcasting in Wilmington, N.C.; the Durham Bulls Baseball Club, Bull City Hospitality and Bull Durham Beer Co., and the American Underground startup hub in Durham; and real estate interests including the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham, Rocky Mount Mills in Rocky Mount and Professional Builders Supply (an equity partnership) in Morrisville, N.C.
News of another retrans battle with a broadcast TV company likely won’t please Dish investors. It finished Tuesday’s trading at $31.70, down 23 cents from Monday, and has been struggling to a five-year low of $24.81 seen on October 28. A rebound to $37.87 was seen on December 3, giving Dish a six-month high for its shares. By December 22, erosion to $28.88 was seen.
Dish’s year-to-date high is $41.29, seen in mid-February.
But, that’s a far cry from where Dish regularly was prior to February 2018, as a growth spurt for DISH suddenly stopped in July 2017. Then, DISH was priced at just over $64 per share. In Q1 2015, prices topped $70 per share.
Today, Dish investors hope the stock price can reach at least half of that value as the company enters its fourth battle with a broadcast TV station owner over a retrans deal.