Fisher Communications Sues Dish For Breach-of-Contract After Station Drops

A Northwest broadcaster sued Dish Network for breach-of-contract Thursday, seeking $1 million, after the satellite provider dropped nine of its TV stations in a retransmission-consent dispute.

The lawsuit filed by Seattle-based Fisher Communications, ironically, doesn’t directly stem from the station drops, but from other contractual breaches that the broadcaster is alleging.

Fisher also charged Thursday that it asked Dish Network to keep its stations on so viewers could get news about the bad weather conditions currently impacting the region, but that the satellite provider dropped them anyway.

The broadcaster issued that statement, and filed its suit in federal district Court in Oregon, in the wake of Dish Network pulling its stations Wednesday night after its retransmission-consent deal with the broadcaster expired in seven markets.

Fisher claims that Dish Network violated the terms of a carriage agreement when it failed to retransmit Univision affiliate KUNP-TV’s signal in Portland, Ore., from July 2006, when Fisher acquired the station, until April 30 of this year.  In addition, Dish Network has not paid Fisher any carriage fees for KUNP, as specified in the prior agreement, the suit claims. 

Dish is currently carrying KUNP, and did not drop it as part of the current retrans dispute.

In its complaint, Fisher also said that Dish Network breached the prior carriage agreement when it failed to pay Fisher in full for broadcasting KBAK-TV and KBFX-TV in Bakersfield, Calif., on its service. Those two stations are among the nine stations that Dish Network dropped Wednesday.

Fisher acquired the two stations Jan. 1 from Westwind Communications. While Dish has acknowledged that it has underpaid Fisher during that time period, it has not submitted proper payments to the company, the suit alleges. 

“Fisher Communications’ lawsuit is without merit,” Dish Network said in a statement late Thursday. “They are asking for payment on a station that elected must-carry and, by statute, Dish Network does not owe any money for that station. We are bewildered by their allegation that any money could be owed on a must-carry station. Furthermore, Fisher has asked for over an 80% increase from our customers, who should not be required to ‘bail out’ Fisher management for underperforming stations.”

The Fisher stations that Dish Network pulled: KOMO-TV and KUNS-TV in Seattle; KIMA-TV in Yakima, Wash.; KATU-TV in Portland, Ore.; KVAL-TV in Eugene, Ore.; KBCI-TV in Boise, Idaho; KIDK-TV in Idaho Falls, Idaho; and KBAK-TV and KBFX-TV in Bakersfield, Calif. 

Fisher also said it implored Dish to keep its stations on because of the local bad weather, so viewers could receive updates.

“In light of the inclement weather impacting much of the Pacific Northwest and concerns about public safety, Fisher attempted to extend the expiration of the current agreement until Monday, Dec. 22 to ensure that Dish customers in the region could continue to receive news and weather updates,” Fisher said. “However, Dish rejected the company’s proposal.”   

“Despite Fisher’s good-faith efforts to negotiate a new agreement, we were unable to reach acceptable terms to ensure that Dish provides us fair compensation for the value they receive from broadcasting our stations, which have leading positions in their markets and consistently deliver highly viewed news and programming,” Rob Dunlop, Fisher’s senior vice president of operations, said in a statement.

“Our signal remains available over the public airwaves and through other service providers such as cable or DirecTV,” he said. “We regret any inconvenience Dish Network viewers may experience as they look for other options in order to watch our stations.” 

Dish claims that Fisher Communications is seeking unreasonable contract terms and a rate increase of 82% for continued carriage of its stations. The satellite provider said it has to draw the line at such “strong-arm tactics.”