WJHL viewers left in dark on DISH

Nathan Baker • Oct 2, 2013 at 4:00 PM

While the federal government ground to a halt overnight in Washington, another deadline passed by for satellite television customers in 18 regions in the United States, leaving thousands of screens dark.

DISH network and Media General, the parent company of WJHL (CBS channel 11), failed to sign a retransmission consent contract by the Sept. 30 expiration deadline, meaning all the television company’s stations were pulled from the air at the stroke of midnight.

Media General’s General Manager Dan Cates laid blame for the loss of the transmission on DISH, saying the television provider refused to pay a fair price for the broadcaster’s products.

“Our television station has been an important part of this community for 60 years, and it is unfortunate that DISH does not recognize our fair market value,” Cates stated in an emailed media release. “We understand how frustrating this is for WJHL viewers who are DISH subscribers. We continue to do everything we can to negotiate a fair, market-based agreement for DISH to carry our station.”

But DISH director of programming Sruta Vootukuru countered with an opposing statement, naming Media General as the unreasonable party that demanded a four-fold increase from the previous rate between the companies.

“We’ve attempted to reach a fair agreement via many avenues, but Media General remains immovable in its demands,” Vootukuru said. “They declined a contract extension, an offer from DISH to pay our competitors’ rates, and have now refused our willingness to match rates paid to other area broadcasters. Media General is overreaching by trying to force DISH customers to pay more than their neighbors.”

Vootukuru said Media General rejected an offer for a short-term contract extension until the company completes its merger with Young Broadcasting, which already holds a long-term contract with DISH.

In June, the two companies announced the merger, which will create a company that owns or operates 31 network-affliated television stations in 28 markets.

Dave Shull, DISH executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said the incident underlines the need for retransmission reform, citing the 91 channels of pay-television companies blacked out last year by contract disputes.

According to Shull, DISH has issued a legislation proposal to Congress that is backed by other pay-television companies.

Cates said negotiations between the two companies are ongoing, and said customers in the area can still pick up WJHL over the air with an antenna or by switching to another television provider.

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