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Dish Sues NBCUniversal as Carriage Dispute Escalates

Update 4:38 p.m.: NBCUniversal issued the following statement in response to the suit: “Should Dish proceed with arbitration we will of course participate in the process, and look forward to receiving the fair market value for our portfolio of networks.”

12:08 p.m.: Dish Network has filed suit against NBCUniversal, the latest step in a rapidly escalating dispute over a new carriage agreement between the two companies.

In a suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Illinois, Dish accused NBCUniversal of breach of contract after the latter launched a public campaign against the former Monday urging Dish customers to put pressure the satellite-television provider. Dish and NBCUniversal are locked in tense negotiations over a renewal of their carriage agreement. If a deal is not reached, Dish customers could lose access to NBCUniversal-owned cable networks such as USA, Bravo, Syfy, CNBC and MSNBC as soon as Sunday. Customers would also lose NBCUniversal-owned NBC and Telemundo stations in local markets including Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Chicago and Miami.

“NBC’s public statements against DISH over the past 24 hours are in violation of the contract between the two companies,” Dish said in a statement. “Today, DISH filed a breach of contract lawsuit against NBC to address those violations.”

Dish is expected to file for binding arbitration in a move to block NBCUniversal from pulling its feeds.

On Monday, NBC launched a public campaign as it sought to push Dish to give in on multiple issues, among them retransmission fees for the broadcast stations. An NBCUniversal-run website urged Dish customers to contact the carrier and demand that it do whatever would be necessary to keep NBCUniversal’s channels on the service.

Dish has engaged in multiple retransmission fights in recent years. A deadline looms for the company to renew its deal with Viacom to carry that company’s cable networks. Viacom chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman said this month that he expects a deal to be finalized by the next financial quarter.

AT&T and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision have been involved this year in a similar standoff over retransmission fees.

Read the statement from Dish below:

“NBC’s public statements against DISH over the past 24 hours are in violation of the contract between the two companies. Today, DISH filed a breach of contract lawsuit against NBC to address those violations.

“DISH has successfully negotiated agreements representing numerous networks in recent months that benefit all parties, including our viewers. DISH’s goal is to reach a mutually beneficial deal with NBC.

“However, based on NBCU’s actions to date, DISH currently expects to file for arbitration, which would prevent NBC from blacking out DISH customers.

“Under the conditions imposed by the FCC and Department of Justice in approving the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, NBC is forbidden from blacking out its networks if a pay-TV provider chooses, in its sole discretion, to exercise its right for binding arbitration. Regulators implemented these conditions to prevent Comcast and NBC from harming consumers and competition.

“In the event of arbitration, affected programming would remain available during that process, and for the foreseeable future.”

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