Tribune Stations Go Dark on Dish

Dish customers in 33 markets across the country lost access to 42 Tribune Media stations at 7 p.m. Sunday after the two couldn’t reach a retransmission consent agreement.

Tribune began warning Dish customers of the possibility they could lose the stations on Saturday. In addition, about 7 million Dish customers across the country also lost cable channel WGN America. Dish claimed that Tribune is asking for an exorbitant retrans rate hike and is forcing it to carry the cable network in all of its markets.

Dish has argued WGN America has declined about 20% in the ratings ever since its conversion from a superstation to a cable network in 2014,  and has much of the same programming available on other networks.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same programming,” said Dish EVP of programming Warren Schlichting in a statement. Dish is offering customers free over the air antennas to capture the Tribune local broadcast stations while negotiations continue.

Tribune countered that WGN America shows like Outsiders and Underground have increased the network’s total prime-time audience by more than 50% since last year and that both shows consistently ranked among the Top 15 scripted cable shows for the 2015-16 TV season.

The Tribune stations involved include ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates in New Orleans, Indianapolis, San Diego and Oklahoma City as well as stations in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.  Dish customers in Indianapolis; Richmond, Va.; Memphis and three other markets are missing tonight’s CBS broadcast of the Tony Awards, as subscribers in New Orleans; Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa.; and the Quad Cities will miss Game 5 of the NBA Championship Finals on CBS and customers in Des Moines, Ia.; and Oklahoma City won't see Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on NBC.

Tribune has said it offered Dish a 60-day extension while it tried to hammer out a deal, but the satellite TV company declined.

“We want to reach an agreement, just as we have with every one of our other cable, satellite and telco distributors, but Dish refuses to reach an agreement based on fair-market value,” said Tribune Media senior vice president for corporate relations Gary Weitman in a statement.  “We want to keep servicing our local communities and we have repeatedly offered Dish a lengthy extension to continue negotiations—unfortunately, Dish rejected these offers.”

Dish has countered that it offered a short-term extension with a retroactive true-up to the new rates once a deal was reached, but that offer was rejected by Tribune.

Tribune has disputed Dish’s claims that its rates are too high, adding that it is offering the satellite TV service provider the same deal it offers other distributors.

“We’ve offered the same kind of fair market rates that Dish already pays other local station groups with ABC, CBS, NBC and CW affiliates with top-rated local news, and other similarly valued cable networks,” said Weitman in a statement.  “At the same time, we’re willing to accept the same rates for our local stations and WGN America that others are currently paying us.”

Dish said in a statement that the dispute highlights the need for real retransmission consent reform.

“Actions like these are precisely the reason that Congress has mandated, and the FCC has opened, a formal process to investigate tactics like this,” said Dish EVP and general counsel Stanton Dodge in a statement. “We also believe the FCC has the opportunity to investigate remedies like arbitration with interim carriage which could end broadcaster blackouts while preserving the interests of all parties.