NAPLES, FLA. — On Saturday afternoon, a guest staying at the Hilton Naples turned on the TV in her room and attempted to watch the local CBS affiliate.
Instead of regular programming, a message from DISH Network appeared in its place.
For locals, the message was no surprise: It’s been there for more than six months.
It could be there for weeks to come, as one of the nation’s most prolonged — and quietest — retransmission fee disputes continues in Southwest Florida.
On March 18, 1954, Fort Myers Broadcasting Company signed WINK-11 on the air as the first station based in the region, which includes Charlotte County to the north and Collier County and such favorite snowbird locales as Naples and Marco Island.
Today, it remains owned and operated by FMBC, and one of the top stations in Southwest Florida.
Walk down bustling Fifth Avenue South in Naples, and more often than not one will see WINK NEWS on a bar television.
But, WINK-11 can’t be viewed by all locals easily, thanks to a dispute with DISH that began January 8.
On the station’s website, Fort Myers Broadcasting presented its version of the facts.
“We offered DISH a short-term extension of our current agreement so we could continue to negotiate with DISH without affecting WINK-TV viewers,” the company said. “DISH indicated that it was willing to accept the extension, so we were surprised that DISH chose to take this course of action.”
WINK GM Joe Schwartzel provided no material update on the retransmission fee impasse when speaking with RBR+TVBR on Thursday (6/13).
“We are continuing to have conversations with DISH,” he said. But, Schwartzel added that it remains unknown if and when a resolution could come.
Schwartzel added that hundreds if not thousands of local viewers have contacted DISH to complain about the loss of WINK; MVPDs and the ATVA have traditionally put the blame on TV station owners for causing “blackouts” of a station’s signal.
Asked if DISH’s negotiations are protracted because Fort Myers Broadcasting is a locally based owner not active in other markets, Schwartzel would not definitely say yes or no. However, he noted that some could surmise that “we’re a little easier to pick on” compared to a large publicly traded owner of stations across multiple markets.
And, Schwartzel noted, the deal provided to DISH is the same agreement that Comcast and DirecTV have said yes to.
For Schwartzel, disagreements with DISH is nothing new. In January 2016, a contract dispute resulted in DISH blacking out WINK-TV until just before that year’s Super Bowl telecast. “They went with the agreement put in front of them,” he recalled.
This year, DISH refused to even agree to that, and hasn’t wavered since.
A DISH spokesperson did not immediately respond to RBR+TVBR‘s request for comment.
As of 2016 DISH had 42,759 customers in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Hendry counties.
But, that was 3 1/2 years ago, when DISH was playing hardball against WINK-TV. Then, it accused Fort Myers Broadcasting of trying to “gain deal leverage” by seeking what it said were above-market rate increases four times above the 2015 DISH rate.
Schwartzel’s statement contradicts this claim, and no other local service provider has entered into a retransmission dispute. Century Link and Summit Broadband also service portions of Southwest Florida and the Fort Myers DMA.
Like other stations forced with loss of coverage, WINK-TV is telling viewers to consider Comcast, or even CBS All Access.
Over-the-air reception is another likely way to get WINK-TV, given the resurgence in “cord cutting” and good terrain.
These suggestions may continue for some time, as a locally owned company sticks to its guns while one of the nation’s two DBS providers does the same — leaving viewers from Port Charlotte to Immokalee to suffer the bruises from a fight with seemingly no end.