It’s been said of carriage disputes that there are no winners, and that may be the case in the increasingly ugly standoff between Dish Network Corporation and Fox News Channel. As the contract battle that left Fox News blocked from 14 million customers heads into its fourth week, both sides are feeling the pinch as they wait for the other to blink. Dish is losing subscribers, Fox is losing ratings and viewers are losing patience, fed up with the corporate mudslinging and tired of feeling like pawns in what appears to outsiders as a petty battle over bottom lines.
Like we said, no winners -- except maybe for competing pay-TV providers, which stand to benefit handsomely from a mass exodus of disgruntled Dish Network customers.
“I have been paying Dish about $140 per month, and just dumped them for DirecTV,” Bob Barney, a Dish customer from Kentucky, told International Business Times. “I’ve been patiently waiting for Dish to make a deal with Fox, but my patience ran out.”
Since the dispute began, Fox News has been aggressively urging Dish customers to switch providers. Most recently, the network launched a YouTube video featuring Fox heavyweight Bill O'Reilly accusing Dish of “censuring” the channel. The video has been viewed almost 90,000 times, which isn’t surprising. Fox News is the most-watched news network on cable and has a notoriously dedicated viewership.
But that raises the question: Why aren’t Dish Network’s competitors openly trying to court Fox News loyalists? Comcast Corporation, Time Warner Cable Inc. and even DirecTV have been mostly silent during the Dish/Fox dispute, despite the fact that customers are flooding social media vowing to cancel their Dish service.
Although capitalizing on the dispute would seem an obvious promotional opportunity for Dish competitors, analysts say such a tactic could backfire. “I think if a company were to do that, it would be viewed in very bad taste -- and could come back to bite them,” said Tuna Amobi, an analyst for S&P Capital IQ. “It seems to be an unspoken understanding among peers, especially the way the disputes have escalated over the last few years.”
Amobi said there was a time when providers would be more apt to jump in and try to lure customers away from a competitor involved in a carriage dispute, but empathy breeds constraint. These days every major provider knows exactly what Dish is going through. DirecTV battled it out with Viacom Inc. in 2012. Time Warner Cable and CBS Corp. went at it in 2013. In both cases, the disputes resulted in temporary blackouts and a bristling customer backlash.
In other words, in the giant glass house that is pay television, it’s best not to throw stones. “No one wants to be seen as trying to exploit this type of situation for their own benefit for the very simple reason that these same companies might be at the other end next time around,” Amobi said.
IBTimes reached out to some Dish competitors to ask whether they’re directly benefiting from the Dish/Fox dispute, but they either declined to comment or did not respond.
One DirecTV insider familiar with its marketing strategy said the company does not actively try to take advantage of channel blackouts at competing providers. The sense is that consumers are becoming savvier about carriage disputes, the source said, and viewers understand that they will eventually get resolved.
Fox News and Fox Business have been blocked from Dish Network since Dec. 20, with Dish Network claiming that the channels’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, is trying to leverage Fox News’ popularity to secure higher programming fees for some of its less popular channels. Dish has been telling consumers that switching providers is not the answer, insisting it will encourage content owners to raise rates and drive up bills.