Gannett escalates Hopper fight with Dish

Company threatens to pull stations from satcaster over ad-skipping DVR feature

Gannett and Dish Networks were still talking into Sunday night to reach a deal that would avert a blackout of the broadcaster’s stations on the Dish platform when their contract expires at midnight.

Gannett is seeking a rate increase and, according to Dish, is threatening to yank its stations from the satcaster’s service unless it disables its controversial ad-skipping DVR feature

called Autohop. Dish said Gannett has demanded a 300% rate hike to renew a retransmission consent contract.

Gannett said it’s only looking for a “fair, market-rate deal.” A person close to Gannett said the company never asked Dish to shut down the Hopper feature, calling the claim “totally false.”

But Dish insists Gannett wants “massive penalties” for Autohop.

“Gannett is stifling innovation and crushing customer choice and control. That’s insulting to our subscribers, and we won’t stand for it,” said Dish VP of programming David Shull. Dish said a 300% rate increase would likely force it to raise subscriber rates.

Gannett said it’s “committed to continuing to negotiate with Dish right up to (the) deadline and believes an agreement is possible, as we are seeking nothing more than the same market-based terms that have allowed us to reach deals with TV providers across the country. Gannett has never had a service disruption with a major TV provider, and we hope we do not face that situation with Dish.”

Autohop on Dish’s Hopper DVR lets viewers watch primetime network shows commercial free starting the day after they air. Dish is being sued by the networks over the feature.

“Viewers have been skipping commercials in the privacy of their own homes for generations,” Shull said.

A blackout would hit Dish customers in 19 cities. Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Phoenix and Sacramento would lose various ABC, CBS and NBC-affiliated stations. MyNetwork TV channels in Atlanta and Denver are also at risk.

Dish said it had offered to pay Gannett “market rates” with a 200%-plus increase from current levels and to keep the stations on air while the two sides continue to negotiate.

Dish carries nearly 1,700 local channels across the country and has negotiated new agreements with broadcasters to carry hundreds of channels this year alone. “As a result, Dish knows with certainty that its offer to Gannett is fair,” the company said.