HBO Hits Back at Dish, Says AT&T Ownership Not the Reason for Carriage Dispute

Pay cabler has been dark on Dish Network services since Oct. 31

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The war of words between HBO and Dish Network continued on Wednesday, with HBO refuting Dish’s claim that AT&T is using the pay cable network as an “economic weapon” to get more money from Dish.

“The notion that AT&T had anything to do with our inability to reach a reasonable deal with Dish is simply not true,” said HBO CEO Richard Plepler, in a statement. “It seems to be a silly but transparent attempt on Dish’s behalf to muddy the waters for reasons only they can explain.” HBO has been dark on Dish Network services, including Sling TV, since Oct. 31 after the two companies failed to reach a new carriage agreement.

During Dish’s third-quarter earnings call on Tuesday, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen accused AT&T of requiring Dish to pay for a set number of subscribers for HBO, whether that amount actually signs up for HBO or not. According to Ergen, Dish would be effectively underwriting AT&T wireless subscribers who are offered HBO for free. HBO also has its own streaming service for non-TV customers, HBO Now.

“This is purely an anti-competitive play that we tried to warn about,” said Ergen, referencing the Department of Justice’s attempt to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which Dish supported. A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon rejected the DOJ’s arguments that the acquisition of would harm both rivals and consumers. The DOJ has appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court will hear arguments in December before ruling in early 2019.

“We’ve always been able to reach an agreement with HBO,” said Ergen, noting that the only difference this time is that AT&T, which also owns rival satellite distributor DirecTV, is now the owner. “We can’t sign a deal that we would actually pay for their customers.”

HBO, meanwhile, pointed out that it was Dish — Ergen has a lengthy history of carriage disputes with content providers — that made the decision to drop the channel. “In fact, we offered to extend our current contract while we continued negotiating. An idea that Dish initially agreed to and then oddly changed their mind about at the eleventh hour,” Plepler continued, arguing their proposal was actually an improvement over the current deal. “We’re actually perplexed by their unwillingness to take this proposal as an opportunity rather than perpetuating a conflict which only hurts consumers.”