DISH vs. NBC Universal: Blackout pending?

I’m talking about all the local stations owned by NBC Universal like KNBC Los Angeles and WNBC New York, plus national channels like MSNBC, Bravo, USA, Telemundo, and the like. (If you want the full list go to NBCUniversal and click on “Businesses.) There’s a Sunday deadline for the two sides to agree on a new retransmission agreement, and people are beginning to get a little antsy.

Folks, you know the deal. DISH is saying that NBCU is asking too much money for content that keeps slipping in the ratings. This is probably true, especially considering that NBC (the broadcast network) is in permanent free-fall, slowed only by occasional airings of The Voice and the Olympics. NBCU is saying they’re just asking a fair market price, which seems to equate to saying “Mom, why won’t you let me jump off a bridge? Everyone else is doing it!”

Yes, of course, this DISH dealer-sponsored blog is coming out on DISH’s side here. But it’s more than just loyalty. I’ve been watching this same saga unfold for years and every time I get more and more sick of it. Old-school TV companies like NBCU always want to get paid more for providing the same content. At the same time, customers all over the pay-TV landscape are saying they’re already paying too much. A for-profit business like DISH isn’t going to cut profits just so that one of their content providers can pad their pocketbooks. That’s ridiculous.

And while I’m on a rant, let’s talk about this “blackout” process. If you take away NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and Telemundo in an election year, you are either saying one of two things. Either you are saying that the news and insights you provide aren’t relevant or you’re saying that you think they’re so relevant that you’re willing to use extortion tactics to get extra money for them. Which is it, NBC?

Now, the odds are good that this is a whole lot of bluster which will result in a deal being signed or some sort of extension being negotiated. That’s how these things usually work. But remember back in 2012 DIRECTV took all Viacom programming off the air for over a week. It does happen. It would be quite a tough pill for subscribers to swallow, but it could happen.

In the meantime, it seems that the push to reform the entire process has ground to a halt in the halls of the FCC building. We were seeing some very encouraging language from the FCC… they were open to ending multi-channel negotiations, allowing out-of-market feeds during blackout periods, and other things what would have been consumer-friendly and content provider unfriendly. The FCC moves incredibly slowly so maybe we’ll see that stuff bubble up again. For now you don’t hear about it at all.

For now, don’t panic, but do know that it’s very possible that things could get even more tense between now and Sunday between DISH and NBCU. Most of the time cooler heads prevail. Let’s hope this is one of those times.