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Tribune Media Takes to Streets, Bars to Push Back At Dish

Staffers working on behalf of Tribune Media have journeyed to bars and festivals in an effort to get the word out about its stations missing from the Dish Network lineup.

The Chicago company’s stations have not been available on the satellite-distributor’s system since Sunday evening, when efforts to extend a pact that made Tribune programming available to a portion of the company’s 13.8 million subscribers failed. A Tribune spokesman, Gary Weitman, said the owner of the WGN America cable network and 42 affected local stations has not heard a word from Dish in days about continuing negotiations.

“We want a fair deal; all we are asking is for the same market rate that Dish is already paying others,” Weitman said via email. ” Dish drags its feet in negotiations—we haven’t heard from them in more than 36 hours.”

In a statement, Dish said Tribune was solely to blame. “Rather than continuing to negotiate in good faith, Tribune chose to remove their channels from Dish. We have yet to receive a reasonable response to our last offer,” the company said.

Tribune has tried to get the word out about the impasse. The company’s appeals to Dish customers tell them about all the big programming events they are missing, including Chicago Cubs games and ABC’s broadcast of the NBA Finals.

Customers in 34 states and the District of Columbia have affected by the disagreement, according to Dish. At issue, the two companies have said, are disagreements over the terms of payment for programming from Tribune’s stations, as well as the value of Tribune’s WGN America cable network. Tribune believes it has upgraded the property by adding more original series, while Dish suggested it doesn’t think much of the offerings.

The contretemps is the latest to flare between a programmer and one of its distributors, and takes place as media companies rely more heavily on fees they get from distribution of their content in an era when ad dollars are less certain and split among a broader range of media. The decision to pull programming is not without risk: Consumers are annoyed when they can’t watch programming for which they pay subscriber fees, and regulators take a dim view of the tactics.

Tribune has employed a bevy of tactics, sending station general managers in Denver and New Orleans to speak out on local radio about missed chances to watch NBA games and the U.S. Open. Street teams visited bars with Cubs games on TV, passing out fliers spelling out the fight with Dish. Billboards have gone up in New Orleans and Chicago about missing sports matches on TV.

Dish has in recent months experienced breakdowns in talks it has held with 21st Century Fox and Time Warner’s Turner. In 2014, Dish and Turner entered into a standoff that resulted in Cartoon Network and CNN going off the air for a period of time. Last year, a Dish disagreement with Fox led to Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network being taken off the air for about three weeks.


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