FCC Issues 'Emergency' Deadline for Sinclair-Dish Blackout Talks

Tom Wheeler - H - 2015
Associated Press

Chairman Tom Wheeler gives the two parties until midnight, Wednesday, to make their respective cases.

A record blackout for cable subscribers that has seen nearly 130 local TV stations go dark for roughly 5 million Dish Network subscribers has prompted the FCC to quickly intervene.

After the stations went dark on Tuesday night, and both Sinclair and Dish issued contradicting statements, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler chimed in Wednesday morning. "Today, I have directed the Media Bureau to convene an emergency meeting with Dish and Sinclair to get to the bottom of the dispute and bring back local programming to consumers," said Wheeler. "The parties will have until midnight to file their views."

The blackout has affected a whopping 79 markets — and it comes just 10 days after Dish and Sinclair agreed to extend talks for the ongoing carriage dispute without any interruptions for customers. That changed Tuesday night, when the local channels went dark in 36 states.

"We have agreed to rates and all terms to carry Sinclair’s local stations," Dish programming senior vp programming Warren Schlichting said in a statement. "But Sinclair is blacking out 129 local stations in an effort to negotiate a carriage agreement for an unrelated cable channel that it hopes to acquire, but does not own today."

Sinclair countered with a statement of its own from evp and general counsel Barry Faber. "Dish, which is reported to have engaged in more recent station blackouts than any other MVPD, is simply trying to spin the facts in an apparent effort to make a political statement," said Faber. "While Sinclair, unlike Dish, is not interested in negotiating this transaction in the press, Sinclair remains willing to negotiate a fair deal with Dish."

Dish has made something of a reputation for itself after being part of nearly half of the carriage dispute blackouts in the U.S. over the last four years. Just last December, CBS stations went dark to Dish customers for 12 hours. And that was only weeks after Dish's 14 million customers lost all Turner networks — CNN and TNT among them — for a full month.