Dish’s Latest Blackout: Satcaster Loses TV Stations in 38 Markets in Fight With Tegna

Dish Network customers lost access to local TV channels from Tegna (formerly Gannett Broadcasting) in 38 markets across the U.S. late Friday night, the latest blowup in a string of retransmission-fee disputes.

Tegna, which owns and operates 46 stations nationwide, is the largest independent owner of NBC and CBS affiliates. Its stations include those in sizable markets including Phoenix (NBC’s KPNX), Denver (NBC’s KUSA), Washington, D.C. (CBS’s WUSA) and Atlanta (NBC’s WXIA).

Dish charged that Tenga was seeking “above-market rate increases” that are twice what the satcaster currently pays. “With Dish willing to grant an extension and a retroactive true-up on rates, Tegna had nothing to lose and consumers had everything to gain by leaving the channels up,” Warren Schlichting, Dish senior VP of programming, said in a statement. “Instead, Tegna chose to turn its back on its public interest obligations and use innocent consumers as bargaining chips.”

Tegna, in a statement released late Friday night, put the blame on Dish for the standoff.

“Our position has been simple: The same fundamental terms that allowed us to reach deals with distributors nationwide should serve as the basis for our deal with Dish,” the McClean, Va.-based broadcaster said. “Rather than accepting that fair, market-based approach, Dish has refused to reach an agreement and once again is preventing its customers from accessing valued channels, even as customers continue to pay for that content.”

Dish’s previous agreement with Tegna expired Sept. 30. The two sides extended that through Friday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. ET, citing a desire to not deprive viewers of local TV coverage about looming Hurricane Joaquin.

Dish, which has a legacy of playing hardball in negotiations, has been more willing than its pay-television peers to let TV channels go dark on its service when talks hit an impasse.

In its most recent dispute, in August 129 local TV stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group went dark on Dish — the largest TV blackout in history — before the two sides came to terms less than 24 hours later. Dish’s feuds have extended to cable nets, as well: The satcaster said it suffered lower activations and higher cancellations in the first quarter of 2015 because of the loss of Fox News Channel and several Turner Broadcasting channels in late 2014. Fox News returned to the Dish lineup in mid-January.

Broadcasters in recent years have become aggressive in demanding higher retrans fees. The industry is projected to reap $6.3 billion from pay-TV providers in 2015, up from $4.9 billion last year, according to research firm SNL Kagan.

Dish had 13.93 million pay-TV subscribers as of June 30, dropping a net 81,000 in the period. The figure includes customers of its over-the-top Sling TV service, launched in February.

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