But this time, the Federal Communications Commission took the unusual step of intervening, the latest move by an activist communications agency that has become impatient of the private sector's business disputes.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called representatives from both companies to the agency in Southwest Washington to hash out their differences. By the close of business, in remarkably short time, the two sides came to an agreement. They didn't sign a new licensing deal -- that's still being worked out. But unlike other disputes on retransmission fee negotiations, the two sides agreed to end blackouts.
“On behalf of more than 5 million consumers nationwide, I am pleased DISH and Sinclair have agreed to end one of the largest blackouts in history and extend their negotiations," Wheeler said in a statement late Wednesday. "The FCC will remain vigilant while the negotiations continue.”
The FCC doesn't typically intervene in these private negotiations. But this FCC chairman has imposed the strongest regulations on the communications and broadband Internet industry in years. Wheeler created first-time rules for broadband Internet companies, including so-called "net neutrality" rules that prevent companies such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable from blocking or slowing down competing apps on their networks. Wheeler is considering rules that would create new rules for online streaming video providers.
Retransmission disputes have been a particular annoyance to Wheeler, even as Congress has for years struggled with the TV industry's contract squabbles. These fees, which cable and satellite firms pay local TV stations for the rights to their programming, have exploded in cost in recent years. SNL Kagan predicts retransmission fees will reach $6.3 billion this year, up from $3.62 billion in 2013.
Dish said it still working on a long-term contract with Sinclair, but commended the FCC.
“We are grateful for the FCC’s work on behalf of consumers to actively broker a productive path forward,” said Jeff Blum, Dish senior vice president and deputy general counsel.