Friday, January 16, 2015

Unblocked

For three weeks, 14 million subscribers to DISH Network had been blocked from receiving FOX News and FOX Business channels.

On Sunday, December 21, 2014 I turned on my TV at 6:00 AM to tune in to FOX News and was greeted not with the anticipated Fox & Friends but with a video announcement from DISH Network Chairman Charles Ergen informing subscribers that the two channels were removed from the lineup.

The carriage contract between 21st Century Fox and DISH was set to expire at midnight on December 20th.  DISH blacked out FOX at 11:50 PM; ten minutes early.  For several weeks prior to the negotiations uproar, FOX had been warning its viewers that DISH was threatening to take that action.  Call me naïve, but I was confident that an agreement would quickly be reached and didn’t give it another thought.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I immediately contacted DISH via its DISH Help Chat Room.  I was No. 98 in the queue and was assured that I would be assigned to the next available agent.  After waiting for 10 minutes, I moved to No. 42.  A few minutes later I was No. 28.  A little later I inched up to No. 2 and then John Ernest (ID: 13P) came online.

13P was very adept at spewing the scripted response to my questions about the blackout.  He offered, and I accepted, the $5 per month credit for three consecutive months that DISH was willing to extend.  I felt the value of these two channels was worth more than the $5 that 13P was authorized to grant and was informed that I would need to “contact an account specialist at 1-866-218-2297 to personally handle” my request for more of a credit.

I decided to wait things out.  Surely, I thought, these two giants would settle their dispute in short order.

A local station carries Fox News Sunday so I was somewhat placated that I would still be able to view each of the five Sunday talking head shows.  The challenge came when I tried keep up on the news from other sources throughout the rest of the week.

Let’s see—there’s CNN where you have intellectual powerhouses like Carol Costello, Don Lemon and Jim Clancy.  There’s MSNBC and their cast of clowns including Ronan Farrow, Chris Matthews, Touré and Al Sharpton.

Don’t get me started on ABC, CBS and NBC.  The only network news reporting on the transfer of five more Gitmo detainees was ABC granting a mere 16 seconds to the story.

In the interim, I had been researching switching to some other provider.  Unlike many who were under the constraints of a two-year contract that came with onerous financial implications, I have been with DISH since 2006 and have never had any complaints about the service or the equipment.  Any interaction I had with customer service was always pleasant and helpful.  However, the longer the blackout dragged on, the more I researched making the switch.  I was just about to contact another provider this very morning.

As I researched, I learned that packages with satellite TV providers differ very little in terms of packages, pricing, equipment, special features, On-Demand, installation and customer service. It became clearer to me that I should just sit this out.

DirecTV has had negotiation disputes of its own, but the No. 2 satellite provider seems to have had more.

DISH customers lost access to CNN, Turner Classic Movies, and a handful of other channels in October 2014 as the result of a contract dispute with Turner Broadcasting. The channels were restored a month later after the two agreed on an extension during ongoing negotiations.

Another contract dispute led to a brief blackout of local and network CBS programming in several markets across the country last month. The channels returned after a 12-hour absence when CBS agreed to a multiyear carriage contract that gave DISH video-on-demand rights to content from Showtime.

Some reports were saying that in the immediate aftermath of the blackout 90,000 subscribers ditched DISH.  I’m fairly certain it was far more.

It’s more than a little disconcerting to learn the head of DISH has strong ties to the Democratic Party, but as Dan Joseph adds, “Mr. Ergen’s generosity ($64,000) to the Democratic Party in the last cycle does not necessarily mean that he is targeting Fox News due to a disagreement with the network’s content.”

With FOX returning to the lineup, my little furkid Sophie, can enjoy barking at the TV when The Five comes on and Bob Beckel opens his pie hole.

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