Retransmission consent disputes are typically short-lived, withmost lasting a few days to perhaps a few weeks.
But the ongoing retransbattle between DISH NetworkCorp. and Tribune MediaCo. has already stretched to over a month, and DISH CEO Charlie Ergensuggested that at least some of Tribune's stations could be permanently struck fromthe satellite TV operator's lineup.
DISH customers lost access to WGN America (US) and 42 Tribune-owned local channelsin 33 markets in mid-June. During DISH's July 21 earnings conference call, BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfieldsuggested that any die-hard fans of WGN America or Tribune's other stations havelikely already switched providers or gone over-the-air. "At what point is itnot even worth negotiating anymore because the subs that you've lost are lost?"Greenfield asked.
Ergen agreed that Greenfield is likely right about this, at leastwhen it comes to WGN America. "Anybody who wanted WGN America has probablyleft us — we don't think that's a big number but they probably left us," Ergensaid. "And so the value [of] putting WGN America back up is declining by theday."
He said because it is the summer and football season has yetto start, there is still time to "piece something together" for the broadcaststations. He added that Tribune has been a "very good partner for a long time."
Still, Ergen said DISH is prepared to go without Tribune's stationsindefinitely if the two sides are not able to reach some sort of agreement.
"We're certainly prepared to live without Tribune and WGNAmerica as a company," he said. While he acknowledged DISH would lose somesubscribers if it does not strike a new contract with Tribune, DISH would also savemoney on retransmission and affiliate fees, he noted.
In the meantime, the company has been shipping antennas to customersso that they can receive over-the-air broadcast signals. "A lot of our customerstoday don't need satellite to get the Tribune channels," Ergen said, addingthat the company could replace WGN America with a different channel that has "higherratings and lower cost."
DISH is also in a dispute with the NFL Network (US). Ergen said negotiations with thesports network have been more positive.
"We're spending a lot of time trying to think of how wecan do things together … in a bigger picture way that's not as much about dollarsand cents," Ergen said. "It's a bit more strategic, I would say."He did not elaborate further.