Dish late Oct. 31 announced that AT&T had pulled HBO and Cinemax content from Dish and Sling TV subscribers, calling the move “anticompetitive.”
The Dish release states that the “AT&T-DirecTV-Time Warner mega merger has allowed the giant conglomerate to relentlessly exert power and influence over competing pay-TV providers and consumers.”
Dish announced the action came after AT&T made “untenable demands designed specifically to harm customers, particularly those in rural areas, as well as damage competing pay-TV providers.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to block the AT&T-Time Warner lawsuit and Aug. 6 appealed the court’s decision to allow the merger. Following the merger’s approval, subsidiary WarnerMedia announced plans for a subscription streaming service.
“There were no guidelines set in place to ensure that AT&T ‘played fair’ for HBO and Cinemax subscribers, regardless of their pay-TV provider,” according to Dish.
“Plain and simple, the merger created for AT&T immense power over consumers,” said Andy LeCuyer, Dish SVP of programming, in a statement. “It seems AT&T is implementing a new strategy to shut off its recently acquired content from other distributors. 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.”
The blackout “is exceptionally harmful to rural Americans who don’t have the same broadband access as customers living in large cities,” according to a Dish release. “Customers with sufficient internet service can substitute HBO Now, the direct-to-consumer streaming offering from HBO. The majority of DISH’s HBO subscriber base is located in rural areas with limited broadband access and likely won’t be able to watch HBO or Cinemax without a satellite connection,” the release stated.
“AT&T’s actions are a deliberate slap in the face to rural Americans,” said LeCuyer in a statement. “And furthermore, they are anticompetitive. AT&T, a company worth more than $200 billion, is intentionally punishing those who don’t have big-city broadband access, in an attempt to push customers to the only other satellite provider, its own DirecTV.”
AT&T is demanding Dish pay for a guaranteed number of subscribers, regardless of how many consumers actually want to subscribe to HBO, according to Dish.
“AT&T is stacking the deck with free-for-life offerings to wireless customers and slashed prices on streaming services, effectively trying to force Dish to subsidize HBO on AT&T’s platforms,” said LeCuyer in a statement. “This is the exact anticompetitive behavior that critics of the AT&T-Time Warner merger warned us about. Every pay-TV company should be concerned.”
“Dish would welcome binding, baseball-style arbitration to determine the fair market value of HBO and Cinemax,” the Dish release states. “During the arbitration process, AT&T would be required to restore its channels to Dish customers.”
“Rather than trying to force consumers onto their platforms, we suggest that AT&T try to achieve its financial goals through simple economics: if consumers want your product, they’ll pay for it. We hope AT&T will reconsider its demands and help us reach a swift, fair resolution,” said LeCuyer in a statement.
Dish and eligible Sling TV customers will be credited on their bill for time they do not receive HBO or Cinemax, Dish announced, adding the company is also offering customers a free preview of HDNET Movies.