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Dish customers lose HBO in ongoing distribution dispute

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The first blackout for the premium cable network

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HBO’s channels have gone dark for Dish and Sling TV customers due to an ongoing dispute between the premium cable network and the satellite TV provider, according to a report from Variety. The blackout, which began at midnight last night, marks the first time that HBO has been intentionally blacked out in the history of the channel.

Cable blackouts are nothing new in the entertainment world. Every so often, distributors and content producers will come to an impasse, resulting in channels being blacked out for subscribers while the two corporate monoliths sort things out. Of course, most customers could probably care less about licensing term negotiations, so the people paying for the content are the ones who are most hurt by the dispute. And both sides essentially hope to leverage customer outrage as a bargaining chip.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the issues here are the terms of a new distribution agreement — specifically, subscriber guarantees (the number of subscribers that distributors like Dish have to hit, or else they pay the difference to HBO).

Both sides of the dispute have already released lengthy statements blaming the other. HBO claims that “DISH is making it extremely difficult, responding to our good faith attempts with unreasonable terms,” blaming the satellite TV service for pulling the channels as a hardball negotiating tactic and recommending customers look elsewhere (like the unbundled HBO Now service) for their HBO fix in the meantime.

Dish claims that HBO (and its new owner, AT&T) is making things difficult for Dish to drive customers toward the AT&T-owned DirecTV service. “It seems AT&T is implementing a new strategy to shut off its recently acquired content from other distributors,” commented Andy LeCuyer, Dish’s senior vice president of programming. “This may be the first of many HBO blackouts for consumers across the country. AT&T no longer has incentive to come to an agreement on behalf of consumer choice; instead, it’s been given the power to grab more money or steal away customers.”