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Dish Eases Standoff with Turner, Restores CNN, Cartoon Network

Dish Network and Turner Broadcasting have set a short-term deal that will restore CNN, Cartoon Network and other channels to the satcaster’s lineup and extend the carriage agreement for TNT and TBS.

Dish dropped CNN and seven other Turner outlets on Oct. 21. TNT and TBS had been facing a potential blackout with a contract expiration looming on Dec. 5. The deal confirmed Friday morning will take all Turner networks through the end of March, giving the sides more time to sort out their differences.

The restoration of Turner channels comes a day after Dish set a five-day extension with CBS designed to prevent a blackout of the Eye’s O&O stations in 17 markets. The extension with Turner puts all of the channels on the same timetable. The late-March timing will also come just as the TNT, TBS and TruTV are serving up the last rounds of the NCAA’s March Madness men’s basketball championship, which means a disruption in service would be bad PR for Dish.

As is the case with CBS, the issue for Turner is not about the prices Dish will pay for Turner nets but the rights that the satcaster will have to use the programming beyond the core linear service. Dish is developing an over the top service that aims to be a lower-cost alternative to its full-freight sat-TV offering. Dish also wants to offer its traditional subscribers other cutting-edge services such as the ability to access programming when outside the home. Those are red flags for programmers who are looking to be paid on top of regular sub fees for those rights.

Dish and Turner had exchanged sharp words in the past few weeks after the channels went dark. Dish chairman Charlie Ergen had indicated he was prepared to drop CNN and the other channels for good, citing the need for distributors to hammer down on rising programming costs.

During an earnings conference call this month Ergen asserted that CNN was no-longer a “must-have” channel. Turner shot back and questioned “antagonistic and aggressive” remarks. Earlier this week it appeared that the sides were making no progress and that TNT and TBS would soon be dark on the nation’s third-largest MVPD platform, behind Comcast and DirecTV.

Dish has about 14 million subscribers. Carriage disputes with the satcaster are a bigger concern for programmers because Dish has a national footprint.

In addition to battles with CBS and Turner, Dish is scrapping with NBCUniversal over carriage of Comcast’s regional sports networks. Dish is not the only MVPD to take aim at RSNs, which are pegged as a big factor in driving up programming costs. Comcast has responded in its Dish fracas with facts and figures about the popularity of live sports to combat the assertion that the channels are little-watched overall in the markets they serve.

Dish dropped Comcast SportsNet New England in August. CSN Chicago, Bay Area, California and Mid-Atlantic are facing a Dec. 1 contract expiration.

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