Little movement on CSNCA-DISH Network blackout, Comcast launches ‘drop the dish’ campaign to encourage Sharks-Kings fans to switch providers
There has been little movement on the CSNCA-DISH Network impass. The Northern California regional sports channel that broadcasts San Jose Sharks and Sacramento Kings games went dark November 24th after the nations second largest direct broadcast satellite provider declined an independent FCC arbitor’s decision on a rate dispute. After initially opting for arbitration, DISH Network subsequently appealed the decision to the Federal Communications Commission and blacked out the channel. In a troubling note for local sports fans, DISH Network has also initiated similar arbitration proceedings concerning three other regional sports networks: CSN Bay Area, CSN Chicago and CSN Mid-Atlantic.
According to Multi Channel News, the parties have been out of contract since 2009 and federal regulations put in place after the Comcast-Time Warner purchase of Adelphia Communications allow for FCC arbitration to mediate disputes. Whether or not those judgements are binding, and how long the appeals process will take, remains grey territory.
“At Dish’s request CSN California agreed to arbitration as per the FCC. An independent arbitrator awarded Dish a fair deal. Yet, despite obtaining a fair deal by the independent arbitrator, Dish still took the network away from its consumers in Northern California,” Comcast said in an official statement released to Sharkspage yesterday. “Dish needs to honor its commitment to arbitration and, more importantly, while this dispute is ongoing, honor its commitment to Sharks and Kings fans by continuing to carry CSN during any appeal of the arbitrator’s decision.”
DISH Network declined to discuss specifics of the dispute, or confirm the number of subscibers effected by the blackout, but in an official statement they noted the two sides have met at the table. “On December 1st, DISH Network met with Comcast and the FCC concerning the fee dispute for carriage of Comcast SportsNet California,” Corporate Communications Manager Francie Bauer said in a statement. “In that meeting, we proposed a resolution that would return the channel to the air and we are now in discussions with Comcast about that resolution. DISH Network continues to work toward a fair agreement with Comcast.”
Chicago Tribune media reporter Phil Rosenthal has warily kept an eye on the CSNCA-DISH Network dispute, noting that as many as 360,000 Chicago-area homes could be effected if a similar situation plays out with CSN Chicago. Hockey fans may remember the Versus-DirectTV dispute in 2009 that initially centered around price, but turned out to be more about carriage as DirectTV wanted to place the NHL’s cable partner on a more expensive digital sports tier. The Chicago Trib’s Phil Rosenthal noted that DISH Network may want to place CSNCA on a “premium tier, for which customers must pay extra.”
The blunt negotiating tactic of blacking out sports channels has unfortunately been a recurring one. Prior to its dispute with Comcast, DISH pulled 19 regional Fox sports channels off of its broadcast in October. At the time, DISH SVP of Programming Dave Shull accused Fox of trying to “shake down pay TV providers”. The two sides came to an undisclosed financial agreement at the end of October. Of the decision, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that both sides “kept in mind their responsibility to protect consumers from blackouts.” DISH Network subscribers also had the MSG and MSG+ channels pulled from their lineup in October, a dispute which MSG hopes to take to arbitration.
It was not possible to get a firm number of California subscibers effected by the blackout, but according to a source at Comcast it is in the hundreds of thousands. Many of those customers are in rural areas without easy access to other options. “We want what’s best for our fans, and that’s to get Kings games back on the air as soon as possible,” Sacramento Kings President of Business Operations Matina Kolokotronis said via email. The DISH Network blackout has particularly effected Kings fans, who are spread out across a wide area in the central valley.
“We hope this issue is resolved swiftly so our loyal fans across the region have access to see all Kings games on TV, and we’re encouraging all Kings fans to call and tell DISH Network they want Kings games back on the air,” Kolokotronis said. The Appeal-Democrat’s Scott Lebar reports that CSN California is available in about 3.5 million homes, and that the current reach of DISH is 14.2 million subscribers.
San Jose Sharks fans also have a wide distribution throughout Northern California, and parts of Nevada and Oregon. In an official statement on SJsharks.com, the San Jose Sharks noted that they “are in regular communication with Comcast SportsNet California and will encourage both parties to arrive at a quick resolution to the dispute.” The Sharks have been in an unusual stretch with 4 straight nationally televised games, two in Canada on TSN and CBC, and back-to-back games against Detroit and Philadelphia (4PM tonight) on Versus.
To help ease the number of fans effected by the DISH Network blackout, Comcast initiated a “Drop the Dish” campaign Tuesday which would offer DISH subscribers a $150 American Express Card if they switch to an alternate provider that carries CSN California (DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse, Astound Broadband…). DISH subscribers who want to take advantage of the offer need to click on the “Drop Dish” banner at iwantcsn.com, register for the site, and send in a copy of their last DISH Network bill. Comcast also set up a phone number where CSN California viewers can offer feedback, 1-888-527-6220. For its part, DISH Network created fairdealforyou.com where its subscibers can offer their feedback.
Blacking out games should be a measure of last resort, but pulling the plug 12 hours after an arbitration decision you initiated appears on its face unconscionable. Potentially pulling the plug on 25 regional sports channels inside of 3 months may make consumers look in other directions, $150 promotion or not.
[Update] FCC to look at new fee dispute rules: official – Reuters.