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Stations return to DISH remains up in air

Nathan Baker • Dec 21, 2013 at 9:14 PM

A blackout of two local broadcast stations on DISH network entered its third week today as the satellite television provider and the media company wrangle over a deal for the rights to air the feeds.

Randy Bongarten, CEO of Bonten Media Group, which owns Tri-Cities NBC affiliate WCYB and airs the Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliate WEMT through an agreement with owner Esteem Broadcasting, said Friday that it’s difficult to tell when the local stations could return to DISH subscribers’ televisions.

“Unfortunately, I cannot say when a resolution might be reached,” Bongarten said in an email Friday. “We are hoping for the best, but it could be a while. We have been suggesting to concerned viewers that they consider switching to DirecTV or their local cable company.”

The channels were interrupted Dec. 8, when the two companies failed to reach an agreement to renew DISH’s retransmission rights of the local broadcasts.

A statement from the satellite television company shortly before the blackout accused Bonten of demanding a 300 percent rate increase from the previous contract for the retransmission fees, and said DISH was willing to entertain what representatives considered a fair deal based on costs in other markets.

A DISH spokes-man did not answer a request for comment Friday.

Bon-garten pointed to another recent blackout of a Tri-Cities broadcast, CBS affiliate WJHL, on DISH and questioned the network’s reliability in providing service to customers.

“DISH, as you know, has a history of these takedowns,” he said. “That has especially impacted the Tri-Cities market. WJHL was off of DISH for several weeks just a short time ago. That makes it very difficult for the viewers to count on DISH as a reliable supplier of television programming.”

The dispute between DISH and WJHL owner Media General kept subscribers from being able to view programming for six weeks, as each company attempted to paint the other as unreasonable.

Similar to its most recent protestations against Bonten, DISH said Media General was demanding exorbitant fees for the transmission rights, while the Richmond, Va.-based media company claimed it was asking a fair price.

In the third week of the dispute, DISH filed a complaint against Media General asking the Federal Communications Commission to force the company to conduct good-faith negotiations.

Details of the deal were never released, but WJHL returned to DISH network’s channel lineup 47 days after being pulled.

Shortly before the Bonten blackout, Bongarten said changes in the industry, including higher fees charged to affiliates by the major television networks driven in part by intense competition for sports programming, is largely responsible for the increased fees asked from subscription services.

Bonten owns or provides services to seven other stations in North Carolina, Texas, Montana and California that are also silent on DISH network as the companies negotiate.

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