Finance

Dish Doles Out Digital Antennas as Retrans Battle Looms

Providence, R.I. ABC Station Could Go Dark Aug. 18 8/16/2017 3:59 PM Eastern

Dish Network is handing out free digital antennas to its subscribers in the Providence, R.I. area, as the deadline for a retransmission agreement with a local ABC affiliate there nears.

Dish’s existing retrans deal with WLNE-TV (ABC6), the Citadel Communications-owned ABC affiliate, expires at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18. As that date looms, Dish said it is offering qualifying customers installation of a high-definition digital over-the-air antenna at no charge to receive the signals for free. Dish said that customers who take the OTA option also can save about $10 per month on their pay TV bill if they drop their local channel package.  

“We’ve been actively working to negotiate an agreement that keeps ABC6 available on Dish, but Citadel’s unbending attitude and outrageous demands show that this broadcaster has no intention of coming to a deal,” said Dish executive vice president of marketing, programming and media sales Warren Schlichting in a statement.

ABC6 VP and general manager Chris Tzianabos did not immediately return a request for comment.

Dish added in the statement that it has been making progress in its recent negotiations and was hopeful a deal could be reached.

Antenna giveaways have long been an option exercised by pay TV operators during retrains disputes. But as the technology has improved, more and more consumers are taking the lower-cost OTA route for broadcast channels. According to the Consumer Technology Association, one in five homes in the U.S. uses an antenna. Dish appears to be taking the concept a step further, seeing it as a marketing tools as well. 

“The fastest rising cost of almost any pay-TV bill is what broadcasters like Citadel charge for local channels, but they are available for free with a digital antenna,” said Schlichting in the statement. “While other pay-TV providers charge ‘Broadcast TV’ fees, Dish is asking, ‘Why pay for channels if you can get them with an antenna for free?’”

In the statement, Dish claimed that over a six-week period, thousands of eligible Dish customers in Providence have switched to OTA service, receiving as many as 45 local; channels over the air.

“Consumers have discovered that digital antennas deliver popular shows, sports, news and weather all for free with an HD experience far beyond the rabbit ears some folks may remember,” Schlichting said in the statement.

Not everyone can take the OTA option – geographic location, topography, and antenna specifications are all factors in receiving stations over the air.

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