Lifetime, EchoStar Carriage Dispute Rages

Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network were still absent from EchoStar Communication’s DISH satellite lineup at 6 p.m. Tuesday after the satellite operator pulled the two women’s cable networks at midnight Dec. 31 over a carriage dispute.

An EchoStar spokesperson Tuesday said negotiations were “ongoing,” while, by contrast, a Lifetime spokesperson said DISH had “not returned to the negotiating table.” The contract between the two expired Dec. 31.

EchoStar says it pulled the channels from its system because Lifetime asked for a 76% rate increase and tried to force DISH to carry a new channel with similar content to one it already carries.

Lifetime says DISH is distorting and mischaracterizing the company’s most recent offer and that they asked for “a very modest increase.” The cable programmer says it asked to continue contract negotiations through the New Year’s holiday and that DISH refused.

DISH is currently promoting the competition, running a free preview of Cablevision’s WE: Women’s Entertainment network on its Lifetime channel and the Encore Love Movie network on its Lifetime Movie Network channel.

“We stand by that 76%,” said EchoStar spokesman Mark Cicero of the offer. “We hope to bring back these channels to our customers as soon as possible, but we also want to negotiate a deal that’s fair to DISH Network.”

“The truth is we have done hundreds of agreements with distributors over the years that have never resulted in this kind of irrational behavior,” said Louise Henry Bryson, president, distribution and affiliate business development, Lifetime Entertainment Services, in a statement.

The two companies issued dueling press releases over the weekend. EchoStar’s release contained a letter from CEO Charlie Ergen challenging Lifetime to disclose to the public any portion of its existing contract that shows that EchoStar violated its agreement.

Lifetime’s release included dismayed quotes from representatives of some of the non-profit groups Lifetime partners with. “Unfortunately, there will be thousands more women who will go without the help they need if they cannot watch Lifetime’s programming and find out more about critical resources like the Hotline,” said Sheryl Cates, executive director of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Lifetime posted a 1-888 number on its Web site for viewers to call EchoStar to request carriage of the networks on DISH. EchoStar is urging viewers to visit, an EchoStar site where the company has posted a the letter from Ergen to Bryson.

Lifetime Entertainment Services is co-owned by Hearst Corp. and the Walt Disney Co. Lifetime averaged 1.80 million total viewers in prime during fourth quarter, making it the fourth-most-viewed ad-supported cable network. Lifetime Movie Network averaged 409,000. DISH reaches some 12 million subscribers.