International private equity firm, Apollo Global Management (NYSE: APO) blacked out DISH (NASDAQ: DISH) customers' access to local channels in 10 markets, across nine states. Earlier this week, an Illinois court issued a temporary restraining order against Apollo, blocking it from blacking out 14 stations it acquired from Cox Media Group less than a month ago.
Apollo also rejected DISH's offer to extend the current contract, with payment, to keep the channels available to customers through NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Two issues are at stake:
Apollo is demanding nearly double the fees DISH pays to provide customers access to the former Northwest Broadcasting channels Apollo acquired last year.
Apollo is attempting to negate the March 31, 2019 retransmission contract between DISH and 14 former Cox Stations, also acquired by Apollo in 2019.
This is the second major blackout Northwest has initiated in the past year, blacking out its channels on DirecTV for eight months in 2019.
Apollo is a private equity investment company, managing assets of more than $300 billion.
"Apollo doesn't care how high a customer's bill gets. It's trying to squeeze every last penny out of consumers to recoup the billions it spent buying these stations," said Andy LeCuyer, DISH senior vice president of Programming. "They are fund managers built to serve wealthy private investors, not local viewers. For Apollo it's about a number. For DISH it's about customers."
DISH was granted a temporary restraining order by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, to prevent Apollo from blacking out 14 local Cox channels.
"Apollo's attempt to rip up an existing multiyear contract with DISH that was signed just last spring is like a bank taking over a mortgage and then increasing the homeowner's monthly payment," said Andy LeCuyer, DISH senior vice president of Programming.
In exchange for using the public airwaves, broadcasters provide their channels for free, accessible with a digital over-the-air antenna; however, pay-TV companies are required to pay broadcasters to provide those same channels to their customers. If the two parties do not reach an agreement, the pay-TV provider must stop delivering those stations.
More information on this FCC-mandated process is available here: https://www.fcc.gov/media/policy/retransmission-consent
As consumers enter the NFL conference championship weekend, Apollo blacked out the stations, using its own viewers as leverage.
"Apollo intentionally delayed negotiations and purposely chose NFL Championship weekend to remove its channels, to inflict maximum pain for consumers. The channels could come back today if Apollo would give us the green light," added LeCuyer. "On behalf of customers, we ask Apollo to stop punishing its own viewers so we can focus on reaching a fair deal."
Affected DISH customers can view NFL games using an over-the-air antenna or stream local and most primetime games for free on mobile phones and tablets asannounced by the NFL.