Watching Dish Network these days is not unlike playing Whac-A-Mole. As the satellite-TV provider wages public battles with media companies, popular channels from Fox News to CNN to CBS are temporarily vanishing into the ether, leaving war-weary viewers wondering what’s next.
Unfortunately things could soon go from bad to worse.
A senior executive for Dish Network Corp. said Tuesday that consumers should expect even more contentious carriage disputes if the proposed merger between Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. is approved by federal regulators next year.
“We’re likely to see more because the power that Comcast-Time Warner is going to have over programming is going to be enormous,” said Jeff Blum, Dish’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel.
Blum was responding to a question from International Business Times at a Tuesday morning press call where he discussed public filings in which opponents of the proposed merger made one final plea to the Federal Communications Commission. The $45 billion all-stock deal, which is currently under review, would combine the country’s two largest cable companies and give Comcast more than a third of the pay-TV market.
Blum said Comcast’s increased size would give it even more leverage in negotiating content deals for NBCUniversal, which it owns. That leverage could also allow Comcast to discriminate against its competitors in the pay-TV market, and quash emerging streaming services like Netflix Inc.
“Comcast has the tools to withhold critical NBC programing from competitive [multichannel video programming distributors] and over-the-top providers,” Blum said. “So we think post-merger, the situation will even be worse, and consumers will actually be harmed more than they are being today.”
Dish Network has been embroiled in numerous carriage disputes this year. Most recently, Fox News Channel and Fox Business were blacked out Sunday in an ongoing stalemate between Dish and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc.
Dish recently reached a multiyear deal with Comcast SportsNet in multiple markets, but only after a touch-and-go negotiating process that almost led to a blackout of sporting events.
At Tuesday’s press conference, John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, agreed that such disputes will become more common in the event of a merger, which he said would create a “disruptive” single dominant player in Comcast-TWC.
“Comcast’s leverage would end up raising prices for people outside of Comcast’s areas,” he said. “I think it would be a natural part of that that you’d see more carriage disputes as some of the smaller MVPDs might try to resist ... they don’t want to have to suddenly pay more money because Comcast is getting a good deal that they’re not able to match.”
Bergmayer and Blum spoke Tuesday on behalf of the self-explanatory “Stop Mega Comcast,” a coalition of consumer groups and private companies that includes Dish Network. The group announced Tuesday that almost 600,000 opponents have filed public comments to the FCC. Tuesday marked the end of the pleading cycle for filing replies.
In its reply comments, Dish Network reiterated its litany of objections to the merger, citing “irreparable harm to competition and consumers, and no discernible benefit.”
Read the full filing here.