Dish body-checks OLN over NHL playPulls sports network in heated carriage dispute
By Toni Fitzgerald MediaLifeMagazine.com
Oct 21, 2005
Dish Network just put OLN in the penalty box.
Yesterday the satellite provider dropped carriage of OLN, 10 days after the network stopped airing National Hockey League games to Dish and Cablevision subscribers. The move comes after several weeks of tussling between Comcastâ€™s OLN and Dish and Cablevision over the terms of their carriage agreements.
Cablevision has not dropped OLN, and says it doesn't intend to, but it could well do so if the ongoing talks don't lead to a resolution that puts the NHL back on the air for its subscribers.
At the root of the dispute is Comcast's ambition to challenge ESPN's long-time dominance in sports broadcasting, and to do that it must increase OLN's subscriber base, now at 65 million, which is about 20 million fewer than ESPN.
That means broad distribution for the sporting events it carries, such as hockey. OLN is paying $65 million this year for NHL rights and is reportedly chasing baseball and football deals as well. It makes little sense for OLN to acquire major sports only to have them offered at the high end of premium tiers.
Before the season began, OLN said it would only broadcast NHL games to cable or satellite providers where OLN was seen by at least 40 percent of subscribers. Dish and Cablevision failed to meet that requirement, leading to the blackouts.
On Dish, OLN is seen by about a quarter, or 3 million, of the satellite providerâ€™s 11.4 million subscribers. They are subscribers to its Americaâ€™s Top 180 Channels package. That costs $47.99 per month, $10 more than its Americaâ€™s Top 120 Channels and nearly double the price of its Americaâ€™s Top 60 Channels.
Comcast wants OLN moved to one of those less-expensive tiers. Dish has refused, saying it was unwilling to pass the added cost on to its customers. On Oct. 10, Comcast began replacing OLNâ€™s NHL games with other OLN programming, refusing to provide hockey games until Dish changed its offerings.
On Cablevision, some 22,000 of its 3 million subscribers receive OLN as part of a 10-channel digital sports package that costs $4.95 per month.
Comcast wants Cablevision to switch OLN to another package in order to get it into more homes. Cablevision says that because Comcast has increased its carriage fees, thatâ€™s not practical, arguing, as has Dish, that it's unwilling to pass the added charges on to subscribers.
Cablevision serves much of the New York/New Jersey market, a strong one for hockey, and last week it was running promotions for a New York Rangers game that, as it turned out, its subscribers were not able to see because of the blackout.
EchoStar, Dishâ€™s parent company, met with Comcast executives briefly yesterday before yanking the network. OLN said late yesterday that EchoStar had ended the talks and expressed disappointment with the companyâ€™s decision.
EchoStar complains that neither Comcast nor OLN said that the NHL games would be blacked out, though Comcast says it laid out its requirements quite clearly.
EchoStar has a history of similar disputes with cable networks. Last year it blacked out Viacom channels for 48 hours over a contract disagreement, and in 2001 it threatened to do the same to Disneyâ€™s ABC Family.
Similarly, Cablevision and YES were in an extended dispute over distribution of the Yankees network in 2002 that took more than a year to resolve.http://medialifemagazine.com/artman/...rticle_807.asp