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CBS pulls the plug on Dish customers in several major cities [Update]

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Dish customers in several markets will have to go without their fill of Sheldon, Penny, and Leonard on the Big Bang Theory, Scott Pelley and the gang at 60 Minutes, and – yikes — NFL football. After missing two deadlines under threat from CBS, the signal for the “most watched network” went dark for Dish subscribers in several key markets as of 4PM PST Friday after negotiations broke down late in the day, according to the LA Times.

“CBS programming is no longer available to Dish subscribers in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Dallas, Denver, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh and several other markets,” CBS said in a statement. “CBS has been negotiating a carriage agreement with Dish for six months and has already granted two extensions. During this time, Dish has dragged its feet at our many attempts to negotiate in good faith.”

Update 12/6/2014 by Ryan Waniata: Just 12 hours after a breakdown in contract negotiations saw CBS programming go dark for Dish subscribers in multiple markets, the lights are back on. The two companies have reached a multi-year deal which, according to CBS’ President of Television Networks Distribution Ray Hopkins, met “all of (CBS’) economic and strategic objectives.” Along with the restoration of CBS programming, the deal saw expanded digital access to Showtime Anytime for Dish subscribers. As part of the deal, Dish will also suspend its controversial Autohop feature for CBS-owned network stations and affiliates until 7 days after the original air date.

Negotiations had been ongoing for weeks – months when you consider other metropolitan markets. CBS drew its big guns earlier this week, saying enough is enough and it would not grant any more extensions – come to an agreement, or following that signature ticking of the 60 Minutes clock, its lights out. As it has done in the past, including a month-long stand-off with Time Warner Cable, CBS made good on its threats Friday and pulled the plug.

So what’s the sticking point? CBS collects a retransmission fee for its station signals, which it plans to increase over the next few years. Dish is not too fond of those price hikes.

What’s more, CBS now streams all of its programming online with the exception of major sporting events for a flat monthly fee – a move that makes the network less desirable for a pay TV service like Dish. And with Dish planning its own live TV streaming service, that puts another wrench in the plans, too.

In the end, of course, it’s the customers that lose one way or another. And in this particular case, there are a great number of customers involved. With half-a-million Dish subscribers in LA, that metropolitan market is Dish’s largest. And along with the big CBS markets mentioned in the statement, Deadline reports that stalled or unsuccessful negotiations could turn off the lights for seven CW stations (Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle); three independents in Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York; and a pair of MyNetworkTV affiliates in Boston and Miami, though Digital Trends has not been able to verify those blackouts at this time.

As mentioned above, this is far from the first time such an agreement has put customers in the position of paying to stare at a blank screen. Just recently, Turner turned its channels dark on Dish customers following a contract dispute. Recently, a similar dispute between AMC and DirecTV saw that pay TV provider using popular show The Walking Dead as leverage in its negotiations.

Interestingly, Dish and CBS have a history of conflict. Remember a few years ago when CNET, which CBS owns, named Dish’s new Hopper technology a Best in Show product, then promptly removed the choice when CBS execs voiced their disapproval? The Hopper, by the way, lets customers skip right through those annoying commercials. Easy, right? Except those commercials help pay for that content.

No wonder CBS is playing hardball. Either way, millions of Dish subscribers are in a bad way when it comes to CBS programming. Can somebody say HD antenna?

We’ll continue to update this story as new details emerge, so stay with us.

Update 12/5/14 at 6:25pm PST by Ryan Waniata: After multiple threats, CBS pulled the plug for Dish subscribers today in several key markets.

Update 12/5/14: This article has been updated with new information as negotiations continue beyond CBS’ imposed deadline.

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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