Hearst TV Stations Go Dark on Dish Network in Retrans Fight

Hearst Television’s 31 stations have gone dark on satcaster Dish Network as the sides fight over the terms of a new retransmission consent agreement.

The blackout affects Dish customers in 26 markets, including Boston, Baltimore, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla. The deadline on the previous agreement expired on Wednesday but the companies set a 48-hour extension while negotiations continued.

Hearst stations posted notices on their websites alerting viewers to the shutdown, casting the dispute as an impasse over financial terms.

“Dish has continued to insist on including material terms that are less favorable than our current agreement. In addition, Hearst Television has made significant investments to deliver top quality programming to our viewers and Dish is seeking the right to carry our stations at below market rates, which is neither fair nor reasonable,” said Dave Abel, president and general manager of Hearst’s ABC affiliate WMTW in Portland, Maine.

In recent years, Dish has frequently engaged in retrans standoffs with broadcast groups including Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Media, Tegna Media and CBS Corp. In January, Hearst stations went down on DirecTV for six days while a retrans deal was hammered out.

The tension among programmers and distributors is rising at a time when both sides are feeling the effects of heightened competition for viewers and new entrants in the pay-TV eco-system.

Dish said it had sought to avert a blackout by offering Hearst another extension with the promise of retroactive payments once an agreement is reached.

“Hearst is blacking out millions of Americans for the second time since January,” said Warren Schlichting, Dish’s exec VP of programming. “While we are listening to customers and working on their behalf to keep their TV bills manageable, Hearst is again turning its back on its public interest obligations and using innocent consumers as bargaining chips.”

Dish and other MVPDs have pushed for an overhaul of the FCC rules that govern retransmission consent agreements. Broadcasters maintain that private negotiations for retrans rights helps ensures they receive fair value for the share of viewing on MVPD platforms generated by local TV stations.

Hearst’s TV station assets include 15 ABC affiliates and 12 NBC affiliates. The timing of the contract expiration is less than ideal for Hearst as football season is over for the year. The threat of angry customers losing access to NFL games is a major source of leverage that broadcasters bring to the table in retrans battles.

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