Turner: No Progress on Court-Dish

Officials at Turner Broadcasting System said Tuesday that they haven’t talked with EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network about Court TV since New Year’s Eve, and they don’t expect the justice network to be reinstated to the direct-broadcast satellite service anytime soon.

“The truth is, we are not currently negotiating,” Turner president of domestic distribution Andy Heller said. “We haven’t had a conversation since 9 o’clock New Year’s Eve … The network is off and, at the moment, absent some change in somebody’s position, it’s going to stay off, I think, for a while.”

Court TV came off Dish’s America’s Top 60 tier at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1, when the programmer’s carriage deal with the satellite service expired. It was replaced by The Biography Channel.

That drop sliced roughly 11 million subscribers from Court TV’s distribution, which most recently had stood at 87.7 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

A year ago, Dish was engaged in a nasty public dispute with another programmer, Lifetime Television. Dish pulled Lifetime and its sister services off its lineup for roughly one month.

This year’s Court TV dispute centers on Dish’s desire to move the network from its most widely distributed tier, America’s Top 60, to America’s Top 120, which reaches about 3 million fewer homes, with a penetration of only about 8 million.

“They proposed that [Court TV] move and they get to write their own rate card after they moved it, which wasn’t exactly consistent with our hopes and dreams,” Heller said.

Heller claimed that he offered Dish an extension to continue carrying Court TV on America’s Top 60 for the current license fee.

“We offered them an extension with no change whatsoever, just maintain the status quo,” he added. “This is the first time someone said, ‘No, I don’t want an extension’ … I’ve been doing this a long time, but this is the first time this has ever happened. Never, all of these networks that we have, I’ve never been in a situation where a network went dark.”

In its press release, Dish said Turner “refused to offer an extension in the company’s Top 120 package for continued negotiations.”

Turner wasn’t in favor of Court TV, a top-20-rated network, being moved to America’s Top 120, with its lesser penetration, Heller said.

“That having been said, we’re not going to say, ‘No, you can’t do it, but if you do it, we’re going to lose 3 million customers that currently have access to the product,’” he added. “That hurts our ad-sales business. And so we have a tiered rate card for that, and they didn’t want to pay it.”

Dish claimed that the license fee Turner was seeking if Court TV was moved to America’s Top 120 would amount to a 70% increase in rates.

“Unfortunately, Turner Networks refused to deliver a reasonable offer for carriage in America’s Top 120 package that fairly reflected Court TV’s overall ratings performance and value,” EchoStar spokesman Kathie Gonzalez said.

Heller conceded that the license fee for Court TV to be carried on America’s Top 120, versus America’s Top 60, “was much more expensive.” But he wouldn’t say how much more.

In the Dish press release, senior vice president of programming Eric Sahl said, “We are working hard to negotiate a fair contract with Turner Networks and Court TV … It is not fair to ask our customers to pay a DBS premium for a channel owned by the second-largest cable operator, Time Warner.”

Court TV became wholly owned by Turner in May, putting its carriage negotiations in Heller’s hands.