Sinclair Fight With Dish Could Spur FCC Action Against TV Blackouts

5 Million People Left Without Local Channels

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A dispute between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Dish Network that's left about 5 million satellite-TV customers without local channels could spur limits on the use of such programming blackouts in business squabbles.

Sinclair blocked Dish customers' access to 129 stations in 79 markets on Tuesday, Dish said in a statement. It asked regulators to intervene in what it called the largest blackout in TV history, affecting viewers in 36 states.

Within hours, Federal Communications Commissions Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency's staff would call an emergency meeting with the companies to "bring back local programming."

"We will not stand idly by while millions of consumers in 79 markets across the country are being denied access to local programming," Mr. Wheeler said in a statement Wednesday.

Tensions have grown as broadcasters demand higher rates from cable- and satellite-TV providers. Disputes have triggered 145 blackouts so far in 2015, compared with 107 last year and 127 in 2013, according to the American Television Alliance, an advocacy group with members including Dish.

"The timing of the dispute is not ideal for broadcasters," Kannan Venkateshwar, an analyst with Barclays, said in a note Wednesday. The FCC "may choose to have a more hands-on approach to this dispute given its recent focus on this area."

The dispute involves access by more than 5 million Dish subscribers to Sinclair stations affiliated with networks including CBS, Walt Disney's ABC, 21st Century Fox and Comcast's NBC, according to Mr. Venkateshwar.

~ Bloomberg ~

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