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Dish Thinks AT&T Will Blink First in the HBO Dispute

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Feb. 22 2019, Updated 5:15 p.m. ET

Dish says HBO faces piracy risk

A dispute centered on programming fees has kept HBO shows from Dish Network’s (DISH) TV platforms for months. HBO shows went dark on Dish in November last year. The blackout followed disagreements about what Dish should pay to give its TV subscribers access to HBO shows.

During the conference call to discuss Dish’s December results, cofounder and CEO Charlie Ergen suggested that HBO’s troubles would multiply if the blackout of its shows continued on Dish’s platform. According to the executive, people who can’t access HBO’s Game of Thrones on Dish may resort to pirating the show online, thereby causing HBO revenue losses. As much as the HBO blackout has caused subscriber losses at Dish, Dish’s leadership appears to think that the risk of piracy could put pressure on HBO to back down from its demands and resolve the dispute that has caused the blackout. Dish lost 334,000 pay-TV subscribers in the fourth quarter, which ended in December.

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Dish opposed AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner

HBO is now owned by AT&T (T), which purchased its parent, Time Warner, in a transaction that the government is still seeking to reverse. Dish opposed AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner, arguing it would stifle competition and raise TV programming prices for consumers. 

Dish has repeated the same line of argument in its opposition to the proposed merger of T-Mobile (TMUS) and Sprint (S). Dish is eyeing expansion into the wireless market, where it would face competition from T-Mobile and Sprint as well as from cable providers Comcast (CMCSA) and Charter Communications (CHTR), which have also diversified into the mobile service market.

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