Dish Accuses Media General of Bad-Faith Dealing in FCC Complaint

Broadcaster's TV stations in 17 markets across the U.S. have been dark for Dish subscribers since Oct. 1

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Dish Network formally appealed to the FCC to intervene in its retransmission-consent feud with Media General — whose TV stations in 17 markets have been dark on the satcaster since Oct. 1 — charging that the broadcaster has failed to negotiate in good faith.

In the complaint filed Friday, Dish asked that the FCC immediately require Media General to negotiate in good faith. The stacaster argued that Media General violated the commission’s rules requiring all parties to negotiate in good faith. Among other things, the satcaster alleges, Media General failed to respond for 11 days to Dish’s last pre-blackout offer.

Media General said Dish’s claims were without merit. “We have acted in a responsive, courteous and professional manner at all times, have accommodated numerous of Dish’s requests and have negotiated in absolute good faith since we began discussions in June — not merely because of any obligation to do so, but because our own standards, and our commitments to our viewers and our communities demand nothing less,” the company said in a statement.

A rep in the FCC’s Media Bureau declined to comment.

The previous deal between Dish and Media General was set to expire June 30. The companies extended that for 90 days but still failed to come to terms, and the broadcaster’s stations went dark on Dish at midnight Oct. 1.

“Dish customers and Media General viewers were without their shows and events for 11 days before Media General would even contact us,” Dish exec VP Dave Shull said in a statement. “We reacted with a counteroffer within hours and Media General has yet to respond. Dish is asking the FCC to act expeditiously to address Media General’s bad faith, push them back to the negotiating table and submit to mediation to get programming back to consumers.”

Media General said that instead of negotiating, “Dish would prefer to manufacture a dispute, and now ask for government intervention, for its own purposes, rather than pay us a fair, market-based rate for the value of our stations.”

The broadcaster continued, “Despite Dish’s meritless request for government intervention, Media General will continue to negotiate in good faith so that we can return our stations to the DISH service for those viewers who remain DISH subscribers.”

According to Dish, in negotiations prior to the blackout, Media General rejected Dish’s offer to match rates paid by primary pay-TV competitors as well as an offer to receive the same rates the satcaster pays to other area broadcasters.

Dish also claims Media General rejected Dish’s offer of a short-term contract extension until Media General is acquired by Young Broadcasting, with which Dish has a long-term agreement in place. Richmond, Va.-based Media General in June announced plans to be acquired by Young Broadcasting. The combined company would own or operate 31 network-affiliated television stations in 28 markets, reaching approximately 16.5 million (or 14%) of U.S. TV households.

The Media General stations blacked out on Dish are: WVTM (NBC) in Birmingham, Ala.; WKRG (CBS) in Mobile, Ala./Pensacola, Fla.; WFLA (NBC) in Tampa, Fla.; WJBF (ABC) in Augusta, Ga.; WRBL (CBS) in Columbus, Ga.; WSAV (NBC) in Savannah, Ga.; WHLT (CBS) in Hattiesburg, Miss.; WJTV (CBS) in Jackson, Miss.; WNCT (CBS and CW subchannel) in Greenville, N.C.; WNCN (NBC) in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; WCMH (NBC) in Columbus, Ohio; WJAR (NBC) in Providence, R.I.; WCBD (NBC and CW subchannel) in Charleston, S.C.; WBTW (CBS) in Florence/Myrtle Beach, S.C.; WSPA (CBS) and WYCW (CW) in Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.; WJHL (CBS) in Johnson City, Tenn.; and WSLS (NBC) in Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.

Dish — the third-largest U.S. pay TV provider after Comcast and DirecTV — had 14 million satellite TV customers as of June 30.

Separately, Dish is currently negotiating a broad programming deal with Disney, encompassing eight ABC stations, ESPN, Disney Channel and other cablers. That agreement expired Sept. 30; the companies said they reached a short-term extension while they hammer out a new deal.