The rhetoric is heating up again as TV networks square off against pay-TV companies over how much money their programming is worth. But this time the networks may benefit from a scheduling coincidence that plays in their favor.
Dish Network is currently juggling negotiations with two big programmers, CBS Corp. and Turner Broadcasting, whose networks include TBS and TNT. Both companies' agreements with Dish are set to expire within the next month -- the CBS deal is up tomorrow -- and could result in customers losing several networks they care about. Pay-TV companies usually try to stagger their agreements so they don't risk blackouts from several programmers at once.
While high-profile carriage disputes have become common, CBS has a potential new tool in its negotiations this time: the "All Access" service it introduced last month, allowing users to pay $5.99 a month for access to live-streamed, on-demand and older shows without a traditional pay-TV subscription.
But the fledgling service isn't a silver bullet at this point. "All Access" doesn't have many sports rights, for one thing, which means users would still be unable to watch NFL games.
It could provide a bit more leeway for CBS, whose fans will have an opportunity to keep watching their favorite shows even during a blackout, said Brian Wieser, analyst, Pivotal Research Group. But Mr. Wieser said he doesn't expect many Dish subscribers to pay the $5.99-per-month month fee in the case of a blackout and said "All Access" would ultimately have little impact on negotiations.
CBS has also been trying to get consumers on its side earlier than Dish would have liked, running commercials warning Dish subscribers that they could lose shows like "The Big Bang Theory" as well as NFL games.
"We are unsure why CBS decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process at a point when there is time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal," Dish said in a statement last week.
"Dish has been deliberately dragging its feet for months," an unrepentant CBS added in a statement to reporters this week. "Now, as the deadline nears, Dish appears willing to drop the most popular programming in its entire channel lineup because it won't negotiate the same sort of deal that other cable, satellite and telco companies have struck with CBS."
CBS said Dish has temporarily dropped more than 120 stations since 2013, while CBS has had just one disruption to its signal, in last year's nasty fight with Time Warner Cable.
Dish is meanwhile trying to navigate negotiations with Turner Broadcasting. It already dropped Turner networks on a separate contract -- CNN, Cartoon Network and TruTV -- last month, and both TBS and TNT could be removed come December if a deal isn't reached.
Turner, too, has been trying to get consumers on its side ahead of the impending deadline.
"Our efforts in recent weeks to restore the Turner networks to Dish customers have been rejected at every turn by Dish leadership," Turner Broadcasting said in a statement. "The upcoming expiration on Dec. 5 of our carriage agreement for TNT and TBS means Dish may drop those networks as well. We remain hopeful that we will reach an agreement that restores our networks to the air and eliminates the risk of Dish removing additional Turner networks from its channel lineup."
AMC, for its part, struck even earlier. While its agreement isn't up until the end of the year with DirecTV, the cable network began warning subscribers earlier this month during "The Walking Dead" that they could lose the high-rated drama midway through the season.