DISH Network asked for federal help Friday to force an end to the blackout of affiliate stations across the Southeast.
After a three-week blackout of Media General’s 18 stations, including Johnson City’s CBS affiliate WJHL, DISH called on the Federal Communications Commission to order the media company to negotiate an agreement with the satellite network.
“Media General’s conduct violates the Commission’s rules requiring good faith negotiation for retransmission consent rights, because, among other things, Media General failed to respond for 11 days to DISH’s last pre-blackout offer,” the complaint, filed on Friday, reads. “There could not be clearer evidence of bad faith than when a broadcaster post-blackout refuses to even negotiate.”
In filing the formal complaint, DISH claims that Media General violated FCC rules requiring broadcasters to genuinely negotiate with satellite companies for re-broadcasting rights. The rules were written at a time when cable television providers held exclusive rights to air local network programming.
In an emailed response, a Media General spokesperson accused DISH of manufacturing the dispute, and said the satellite company is refusing to pay a fair rate for the company’s product.
“We have acted in a responsive, courteous and professional manner at all times, have accommodated numerous of DISH’s requests and have negotiated in absolute good faith since we began discussions in June — not merely because of any obligation to do so, but because our own standards, and our commitments to our viewers and our communities demand nothing less,” the statement read.
DISH Network has been unable to air most Media General stations since Oct. 1, when the previous contract expired, although an 18-hour agreement between the two companies allowed DISH to transmit four Gulf state stations in the lead up to Tropical Storm Karen.
In the complaint, DISH states that negotiations broke down because Media General representatives insisted on forging a new agreement that included its own stations and the 14 stations owned by Young Broadcasting. The two television companies announced a merger in June that, when completed, will give the new company a reach into 14 percent of U.S. households.
But DISH already held a re-broadcast agreement with Young, and countered with an offer excluding the Young stations.
In the filed document, the company claims that Media General did not submit another counter offer until 11 days after the contract expired.
That offer included two options — either DISH could enter into a new agreement covering both the Media General and the Young stations, or DISH could enter into an agreement for only the Media General stations at the same cost of the offer for both companies’ broadcasts.
DISH said the latter offer would represent a 500 percent increase from the prior agreement with Media General, and the company would still be required to pay for the Young stations.
DISH’s current contract with Young Broadcasting doesn’t expire for more than a year.
On Oct. 11, DISH representatives sent a counter offer, but said Friday they had still not received correspondence from Media General.
“We want to reach a resolution with DISH and get WJHL back on your channel lineup, but it’s only right that they pay a fair value for our channel,” Dan Cates, WJHL’s General Manager, said in a recorded statement on the network’s website. “Retransmission agreements are very routine in our business and have been for many years. Our company has been able to reach an agreement with every other pay-TV provider without ever experiencing a disruption --— that’s until now on DISH.”
The American Television Alliance, a lobbyist organization representing most of the larger pay-TV companies, took the opportunity to advocate reform of the FCC rules governing retransmission consent.
According to the ATVA, the 101 stations blacked out this year on pay-TV providers is an all-time high, up from 12 in 2010, 51 in 2011 and 91 last year.