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Dish, Cox Media Group in Retrans Battle

More than a dozen Cox Media Group stations in 10 markets went dark to Dish Network customers Wednesday, after a restraining order meant to keep the properties available throughout negotiations was dissolved.

This is the second retrans dispute Cox Media parent Apollo Global Management has had with Dish this year. In January, Apollo pulled stations in 10 markets it had recently purchased from Northwest Broadcasting. That blackout lasted about two months after a truce was reached in March to allow Dish customers access to news and information at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of press time those stations were still available to Dish customers. 

This latest dispute involves about 14 stations in 10 different markets, including cities like Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Atlanta; Boston and Seattle. 

According to a Dish press release, the satellite TV service provider took Apollo to court to determine if the private equity firm prematurely terminated its carriage agreement with Dish when it acquired the Cox Media stations in 2019. In January, the Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court issued a temporary restraining order that kept the stations available to Dish customers. The case was later moved to federal court, and on July 20 the restraining order was dissolved. 

Dish said it asked Apollo to keep the stations live even after the restraining order was removed -- offering to pay increased rates and to true-up any amounts owed Apollo if the stations prevailed in the litigation -- but was rejected.

“We don’t understand why Apollo is choosing to put customers in the middle of its negotiations, especially during a global pandemic when customers need access to local news and programming,” Dish SVP of programming Andy LeCuyer said in a press release. “We have offered to apply our current agreement — with higher rates — to keep their channels available and avoid any service interruption while we continue to negotiate, but they refused, demanding a 40-percent increase to rates agreed to last year. We want to come to a long-term agreement that is fair for our customers.”

In a press release, Cox Media Group called Dish’s lawsuit “misguided,” adding that it had offered a standard extension in order to continue negotiating in good faith, as Dish previously agreed for CMG stations in other markets. “Dish has yet to agree,” CMG said.

“During these times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever that our viewers know their trusted local stations are there for them, providing the news and information they need to make decisions for their families,” said CMG executive vice president of Television Paul Curran in a press release. “CMG stations are often the top-rated providers of important local and national news, and take pride in being resources for our communities, and we will fight to continue to fulfill this responsibility.”

The affected stations are:

· WSB-TV, Channel 2 (ABC, Atlanta, Ga.)

· WFXT-TV, Channel 25 (Fox, Boston, Ma)

· WSOC-TV, Channel 9 (ABC, Charlotte, N.C.)

· WAXN-TV, Channel 64 (IND, Charlotte, N.C.)

· WHIO-TV, Channel 7 (CBS, Dayton, Ohio)

· WFOX-TV, Channel 30 (Fox, Jacksonville, Fla.)

· WFOX2-TV, Channel 32 (MNT, Jacksonville, Fla.)

· WHBQ-TV, Channel 13 (Fox, Memphis, Tenn.)

· WFTV-TV, Channel 9 (ABC, Orlando, Fla.)

· WRDQ-TV, Channel 27 (IND, Orlando, Fla.)

· WPXI-TV, Channel 11 (NBC, Pittsburg, Pa.)

· KIRO-TV, Channel 7 (CBS, Seattle, Wash.)

· KOKI-TV, Channel 23 (Fox, Tulsa, Okla.)

· KMYT-TV, Channel 41 (MNT, Tulsa, Okla.)