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42 TV stations, including Fox 8 in Cleveland, remain dark for Dish Network customers

By Robert Channick • Jun 16, 2016 at 9:50 AM

Dish Network dropped Tribune Broadcasting’s television stations nationwide for 50 million subscribers in a dispute over carriage fees.

The blackout, which began Sunday, pulled the plug on WJW Fox 8 in the Cleveland and Akron/Canton market, WGN for Chicago viewers, as well as WPIX in New York, among other stations. It also affected access to WGN America for 7 million Dish subscribers.

In total, the blackout affects 42 local channels in 34 states and Washington, D.C. for stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting.

(NOTE: For the complete list of impacted stations and markets, click HERE.)

“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, spokesman for Chicago-based Tribune Media.

In response Dish is offering "over the air" antennas at no cost to customers in affected markets, so they can watch Tribune's local broadcast channel for free.

The company reported today it continues to distribute tens of thousands of free over-the-air antennas to customers affected by the black out. The offer remains active and DISH continues to fulfill orders.

“Our solution to offer free over-the-air antennas to impacted consumers has been tremendously successful, and provided consumers with a meaningful option to fight back against the unreasonable demands of broadcasters whose primary goal should be to serve the very consumers that they are using as pawns to gain negotiating leverage," said Warren Schlichting, Dish executive vice president of programming.

Dish provides satellite TV programming to about 14 million subscribers. The Colorado-based company issued a statement offering free over-the-air antennas for Dish subscribers and blaming Tribune for seeking “significant prices increases” for access to its local stations.

“Tribune is demanding an unreasonable rate increase for channels that are available for free over the air,” Schlichting said.

Dish has invited Tribune to enter into binding, baseball-style arbitration modeled on the successful arbitration procedures from the Comcast/NBCU merger to determine the fair market value of their channels, Schlichting said. As part of the arbitration process, DISH has asked Tribune to restore its channels on DISH for the benefit of innocent consumers.

“We want to return these local stations to our customers immediately, and binding, baseball-style arbitration offers a path to reach a fair deal and to serve the best interests of our customers," Schlichting said.

According to Weitman, since the beginning of 2013, when the current management team began running Tribune Broadcasting, the organization has reached agreements with all other cable and satellite providers without any disruption in service in any of their markets.

"Dish is notorious for blacking out broadcasters and cable networks rather than agree to market rates, so we want to make sure that Dish subscribers who rely on us for news, traffic, weather and live sports are aware that they may lose it all, along with losing access to WGN America,” Weitman said.

Weitman said the interruption occurred "because Dish refuses to recognize the fair value of our first-in-class news, sports, and entertainment programming."

The 1992 Cable Act gave broadcasters the right to seek retransmission consent fees, an increasingly important revenue source for TV stations. At issue is the price Dish is willing to pay to carry those stations. Fees are passed on to subscribers.

Tribune Media is also seeking more clearance for WGN America, the former superstation that has been converted into a cable network, with original programming and no local news or sports. WGN America reaches 80 million homes across the U.S., up from 75 million four years ago.

"Tribune is demanding an unreasonable rate increase for channels that are available for free over the air," Schlichting said. "Actions like Tribune's are what drive price increases and feed customer frustration for our industry. With DISH's free antenna, customers will continue to receive Tribune channels for free over the air, along with dozens of other broadcast channels not normally available to pay-TV customers."

Schlichting said, "In addition to asking for significant price increases for local channels, Tribune is attempting to 'force bundle' an unrelated and low-performing cable channel, WGN America, with the media conglomerate's local broadcast stations."

Each year, the cost to carry local broadcast stations rises far beyond the rate of inflation, leading to blackouts across the country that affect millions of subscribers of various pay-TV companies, according to a DISH press release.

According to SNL Kagan, a leading source on the media industry, broadcast fees burdening pay-TV consumers were as low as $215 million in 2006, soared to $4.9 billion in 2014 and are expected to more than double to reach $10.3 billion in 2021.

EDITOR’S NOTE: By Geri Gibbons of The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (TNS) and the Norwalk Reflector staff contributed to this story.

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