Dish Network blacked out Tribune Broadcasting’s 42 owned or operated TV stations in 33 markets on Sunday night, affecting more than 50 million households. An additional near-7 million Dish subscribers also lost access to WGN America at 7 p.m. ET — the hour the companies’ retransmission agreement expired.
Those in Tribune’s CBS markets missed the Tony Awards; in the NBC ones, they missed the Pittsburgh Penguins clinch the Stanley Cup. If the dispute is not resolved by tonight, Game 5 of ABC’s NBA Finals is also in jeopardy.
As the two companies try to work this out, Dish is offering free antennas to its customers so they can still catch the over-the-air broadcast channels.
“We want to reach an agreement, just as we have with every one of our other cable, satellite and telco distributors, but Dish refuses to reach an agreement based on fair-market value,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s senior vice president for corporate relations said in a media release. “We want to keep servicing our local communities and we have repeatedly offered Dish a lengthy extension to continue negotiations — unfortunately, Dish rejected these offers.”
“We’ve offered the same kind of fair market rates that Dish already pays other local station groups with ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliates with top-rated local news, and other similarly valued cable networks,” he continued. “At the same time, we’re willing to accept the same rates for our local stations and WGN America that others are currently paying us.”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the heated negotiations, Dish claimed that Tribune’s desired rate increase is “unreasonable” and that the local-TV giant is trying to force WGN America into a bundle. Dish doesn’t even really want that channel.
“Tribune is demanding an unreasonable rate increase for channels that are available for free over the air,” said Warren Schlichting, Dish executive vice president of programming. “Actions like Tribune’s are what drive price increases and feed customer frustration for our industry.”
“With Dish willing to grant an extension and a retroactive true-up on rates, Tribune had nothing to lose and consumers had everything to gain by leaving the channels up,” he continued. “Instead, Tribune chose to turn its back on its public interest obligations and use innocent consumers as bargaining chips.”
Dish often finds itself in these types of battles. By Tribune’s offered count, in the past three years alone, Dish has blacked out station groups and cable nets a dozen times.