DISH Network: Time to Stop the Retrans Mud Baths

If there were an Oscar this year for Most Disingenuous Comment by a TV Executive, it would surely have gone to DISH Network Executive VP Stanton Dodge. It was Dodge who in the context of DISH’s recent blackout of Hearst television stations claimed that broadcasters “use in-market monopoly power to put profits ahead of the public interests they are supposed to serve.” To Mr. Dodge, we would respectfully suggest: Look in the mirror.

Let’s look at the facts: In 2017, DISH has forced more programming disruptions than any other pay TV service, based on reports from SNL Kagan. In fact, over the last 3 months, DISH has gone only two weeks without a disruption. And since January 2015, DISH has been involved in a whopping 58% of all retransmission consent impasses.

Indeed, no company in America uses its monopoly power to put profits ahead of the public interest more than DISH. No wonder that The Hollywood Reporter declared DISH  “the worst place to work in America” and its CEO the most hated man in Hollywood.

In recent years, DISH:

  • Was found liable for more than 57 million illegal and intrusive telemarketing calls;
  • Reached a $2 million agreement with the Colorado Attorney General over complaints about price hikes;
  • Settled for $6 million when charged with misleading its customers;
  • Had an employee seeking management advice on a job-review website be advised to quit and “go find a job where you can use your talents for good rather than evil”.

DISH, for decades, has been adding to its dossier of impropriety and trying to drag others’ down with them. In refusing to negotiate fairly with Hearst, DISH is employing the same strategy that it has employed with other broadcasters – offer unfavorable terms, force an impasse, blame broadcasters, and ask the FCC to regulate a fair and free video marketplace.

Time and again, DISH CEO Charlie Ergen has made it clear he relishes playing hardball in retrans negotiations, even if that leaves DISH customers in the dark. Ergen once described DISH’s negotiating style in remarks at the Univ. of Colorado as follows:

“You can live in a bubble, and you’re probably not going to get a disease. But you can play in the mud and the dirt, and you’re probably not going to get a disease either, because you get immune to it. You pick your poison, and I think we choose to go play in the mud.”

Rather than wallow in mud, there’s a better way for DISH and other pay TV bad actors to operate. Stop being serial abusers of TV viewers. Engage in serious negotiations. Recognize the value that local broadcasters and marquee broadcast networks bring to the pay TV universe. Focus on customer service and fair business practices. And stop using viewers as pawns in a Washington game to “fix” a fair and free market retransmission system.