Tribune stations covering 33 major markets began warning viewers with on-air crawls and other messages that the stations could go dark Sunday evening. The dispute will also affect Tribune’s WGN America cable channel, which is distributed in about 7 million Dish homes.
Dish in a statement slammed Tribune for sounding the alarm with viewers while the sides still have time to cut a deal.
“Dish is actively working to reach a deal before the contract expires, and we have offered a contract extension to Tribune to keep the channels available to customers in the event that we are unable to reach a deal by the deadline,” a spokesman said.
“We want to reach an agreement with Dish,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s senior VP of corporate relations. “We’ve offered the same fair market rates that Dish already pays other local station groups with ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliates with top-rated local news, and other similarly valued cable networks. At the same time, we’re willing to accept the same rates for our local stations and WGN America that others are currently paying us. Dish has refused our offer.”
Tribune’s 42 stations are mostly affiliated with Fox and the CW, but it also has some CBS, ABC and NBC affils. In those markets, which include Indianapolis, New Orleans, Memphis and Richmond, Va., going dark on Sunday would mean viewers would lose access to ABC’s coverage of Game 5 of the NBA finals, NBC’s Game 6 of NHL’s Stanley Cup finals and CBS’ telecast of the Tony Awards.
Dish, which reaches about 13.9 million subscribers, has battled over contract renewals with numerous station groups and cable programming giants in recent years. In April there was much saber-rattling between Dish and Viacom before the sides set a contract renewal after an all-night marathon negotiating session.