Here’s why cord-cutters should be worried about the Dish-HBO dispute

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On Thursday, HBO and Cinemax went dark for some Dish customers across the country as a feud between the carrier and the pay channel’s parent company escalated. And now that feud could have a huge impact on cord-cutting customers who depend on over-the-top (OTT) services like Sling.

For the first time in the channel’s history, HBO is now blacked out for certain viewers, affecting around 2.5 million of Dish’s 13 million customers — including subscribers to the Dish-owned Sling streaming service. And both sides are blaming the other. 

In a statement to USA Today, Dish claims that HBO’s parent-company, AT&T, yanked the channel because it wants “a guaranteed number of subscribers, regardless of how many consumers actually want to subscribe to HBO.”

Meanwhile, HBO says Dish is to blame and that blacking the channel out is just a “negotiating tactic.” Not helping Dish is the fact that the carrier has a history of pulling channels from its service in such disputes, as it did with CBS last year and Fox News in 2015.

No matter what the reason is, if you’re a subscriber to Dish or Sling, no Game of Thrones binges for you for the time being.

It proves that subscribers to relatively new OTT services are not immune from blackouts that have previously affected cable subscribers. Dish owns Sling while AT&T owns DirecTV and its OTT service DirecTV Now,.

As Chaim Gartenberg points out over at The Verge, this dispute could create a path in which services for channels like HBO could provide leverage for pushing customers away from certain OTT services and to AT&T’s own DirecTV Now, where HBO and Cinemax are just an extra $5 a month. Or customers could keep their current subscription and pay an extra $15 for HBO’s standalone HBO Now service. 

It all sounds pretty nefarious but it’s also not a new strategy in the streaming wars. On a smaller scale, we’ve been talking for over a year about Disney’s plans to pull its content from services like Netflix and plop it on its own upcoming streaming service. 

This fight also has connections to President Trump, if you can believe it. Several months ago, when the Department of Justice sued to prevent the AT&T and Time Warner merger (HBO was owned at the time by Time Warner) the move was seen by many as a scurrilous political move tied to Trump’s feud with CNN (also owned by Time Warner). 

But, now, DOJ officials are pointing to the HBO feud as  a reason why they opposed the merger. 

Eriq Gardner lays out a compelling argument over at THR why the DOJ’s new claims are more than a bit disingenuous, making this whole thing even murkier.

One thing is clear: no matter if we’re talking about HBO or Disney movies, companies aren’t afraid of flexing their clout by leveraging their content to get us to shell out for more and more services. It’s true the future of entertainment is streaming but who knew it’d be so expensive and messy?

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