Midway through Thursday night’s Caps-Avalanche broadcast on Comcast SportsNet, play-by-play man Joe Beninati began a rather unusual read. He informed viewers of a potential upcoming service issue for Dish Network subscribers, and directed concerned viewers to a new Web site — IWantCSNMA.com.
That likely won’t be the last time CSN viewers hear about this issue. Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic this week launched a marketing campaign focused on Dish subscribers, featuring live reads from broadcasters, banners ads, social media updates and a 30-second spot promoting the network’s offerings.
“DISH may drop Comcast SportsNet; TAKE ACTION, CALL DISH NOW!” the new Web site screams. “You may lose Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic. Comcast SportsNet delivers more than 400 live sporting events a year, so you won’t get the Redskins, Ravens, Wizards, Capitals, D.C. United or ACC on CSN. TAKE ACTION NOW – TELL DISH YOU DEMAND TO KEEP YOUR COMCAST SPORTSNET!”
The Dish contracts for four CSN regional networks — CSN Chicago, CSN Mid-Atlantic, CSN Bay Area and CSN California — expire in the first week of December, according to Multichannel News. A fifth, CSN New England, hasn’t been available on DISH since August, according to the Multichannel News report. CSN Chicago began a similar marketing campaign on Thursday, asking viewers “What if you could no longer watch all your local Bulls, Blackhawks, Sox and Cub games?” according to Broadcasting & Cable.
For its part, Dish blamed the dispute on CSN’s demands.
“Comcast SportsNet is demanding a 40 percent price increase for more than 90 percent of DISH customers in each of the affected markets, when only a small fraction of those consumers actually watch the channels,” DISH said in a statement given to The Post and other outlets. “This heavy-handed tactic is troubling given Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable that would allow it to exercise even more power to leverage programming content in anti-competitive ways.”
CSN Mid-Atlantic — the local broadcast home for most Caps and Wizards games, and for the official Redskins and Ravens pre- and post-game shows — issued a statement of its own.
“With the upcoming expiration of our agreement, we are growing increasingly concerned that DISH is not willing to work toward mutually acceptable terms for continuing carriage of Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic,” the statement says. “This unwillingness to recognize the value of our live game coverage of the Wizards, Capitals, DC United and ACC, as well as exclusive Ravens and Redskins programming, is disappointing. Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic is simply asking DISH to meet fair market value and the terms that have already been established with our other distribution partners. We feel that the time is right to inform the passionate viewers of Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic that they may soon be unable to watch their favorite Washington and Baltimore teams via DISH’s service.”
Dish has 14 million U.S. customers, according to the network, making it the country’s third-largest pay-TV provider. It has also been in a long-running dispute with CBS over carrying its owned-and-operated stations; this week the companies agreed on a short-term extension as they continue to negotiate. Separately, Dish and Turner Broadcasting have squabbled over negotiations; Turner also launched a Web site urging subscribers to complain to Dish.
DISH has also disagreed with the Big Ten Network over post-expansion costs in recent months, leaving subscribers in New Jersey and Maryland unable to watch Rutgers and University of Maryland coverage on BTN.
Update: Later Friday, NBCUniversal issued another statement on the matter:
“We are seeking to license our regional sports networks to DISH on the same terms that other distributors have accepted for this programming. Our rates are reflective of the very high value of this programming, a value that is recognized by consumers through the increased ratings for these RSNs. Collectively, these RSNs present 2,200 live sporting events annually, and live sports account for the vast majority of the highest rated programming in the country. Comcast has nothing to do with this dispute, which is 100 percent created by DISH’s unwillingness to negotiate for comparable terms of carriage set by the market. As with DISH’s current disputes with Turner and CBS, and its well-established history of unreasonable negotiating tactics that unfairly target consumers, this dispute is not at all impacted by Comcast’s pending merger with Time Warner Cable.” – NBCUniversal