Ergen Rips Fox Family

New York-EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman Charlie Ergen complained last week that his company, which is suing Fox Family Channel, should pay less for the service because its ratings have dramatically dropped.

Following last Thursday's SkyForum, reporters asked Ergen about the suit EchoStar filed earlier this month against Fox Family Worldwide Inc. The direct-broadcast satellite provider is seeking to extract itself from a $500,000-per-month contract to carry Fox Family on its Dish Network service.

Discussing the suit, Ergen said Fox Family's ratings have declined since it relaunched two years ago.

"The ratings are down, and we're still paying the same amount of money for it," Ergen said. "Ever since they tookBonanzaoff, the ratings have never been the same."

He also griped that EchoStar's license fees for Fox Family were not as attractive as those some MSOs are paying. But Ergen didn't say he would definitely drop Fox Family, which is now seeking contract renewals with operators that would raise its monthly, per-subscriber license fees to 20 cents a month.

"We've asked the courts to allow us to stop carrying Fox Family," he said. "That's not to say we would."

The EchoStar suit claims that changes in Fox Family's ownership give EchoStar the right cancel its contract with the service, formerly The Family Channel, and drop the network.

Fox Family contends that it has a valid contract with EchoStar that the courts will enforce.

The DBS provider contends it informed Fox Family in October 1999 that it wanted to stop carrying the channel. EchoStar has an affiliation agreement with International Family Entertainment Inc., Fox Family's former owner, which expires in 2005.

The DBS service claims it could terminate the contract after a change in ownership. Fox Family was acquired by a joint venture of News Corp. and Saban Entertainment in 1997.

Ergen said that EchoStar still has a good relationship with News Corp. and carries most Fox programming.