Dish Sues NBCU Over Negotiation Statements

Dish said Tuesday that it had filed a breach of contract suit against NBCU over statements NBCU made about their carriage negotiations.

NBCU launched a marketing campaign Monday night warning viewers of its TV stations and some cable nets that they could be losing access to the stations March 20 if NBC and Dish can't strike a new carriage deal.

“We are disappointed that DISH would deny its subscribers access to valuable programming on NBC, Telemundo, USA, Syfy, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and more," the network said in a statement Monday. "NBCUniversal has the most-watched portfolio in the U.S. and on DISH systems, including the #1 broadcast network, the #1 cable entertainment network, and NBCUniversal is #1 in news and late night television.”

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

In the suit, DISH explained why the communications were out of bounds.

"DISH, through contractual agreements with NBCU, has the right to distribute NBC Programming to its subscribers throughout the country," Dish said in the suit. "These agreements, among other things, prohibit NBCU from engaging in certain public communications and/or messaging that relate to the expiration of these agreements. NBCU has ignored its contractual obligation not to engage in these types of public communications and has instead decided to bombard DISH subscribers with prohibited messages, including, among other things, warnings that DISH is going to "drop" the NBC Programming, and has included “calls to action” in direct violation of the contracts."

"DISH has successfully negotiated agreements representing numerous networks in recent months that benefit all parties, including our viewers," it continued in a statement about the suit. "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.”

A source said Monday that NBC was surprised that the negotiations had not borne fruit given the popularity of NBC on Dish, though ultimately the sticking point is the price Dish is willing to pay for that programming, or alternately the price NBC is willing to accept.

“Should Dish proceed with arbitration we will of course participate in the process," said an NBCU spokesperson, "and look forward to receiving the fair market value for our portfolio of networks.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.