Update: Contract stalemate leaves DISH satellite customers without Columbus ABC affiliate WTVM, Fox affiliate WXTX

Dispute affects Raycom customers in more than three dozen U.S. cities

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 5, 2013 

An impasse in contract negotiations between DISH Network and Raycom Media has left customers of the satellite TV company without access to the Columbus ABC affiliate, WTVM, Channel 9, and Fox affiliate, WXTX, Channel 54.

The DISH signal for the Raycom-owned station, along with stations in about three dozen other U.S. cities, was replaced last Thursday with a blue-screen message. It said Raycom had blocked DISH from carrying the channels and that Raycom is “demanding unreasonable rate increases” to do so in the future.

Montgomery, Ala.-based Raycom Media fired its own shots, saying in a release that DISH has “refused” to sign an agreement after several months of negotiations. The deadline was July 31.

“We understand this is frustrating for DISH Network customers, we share their frustration, and we are committed to doing everything we can to resolve this issue,” Raycom President and Chief Executive Officer Paul McTear said in a statement.

WXTX is owned by Charlotte, N.C.-based American Spirit Media, with Raycom operating the station through a service agreement.

WTVM, in a release from marketing director Brian Correll, echoed those sentiments, explaining the station has agreements with every other distributor in the Columbus market and that it is trying to resolve the DISH stalemate.

Though neither side disclosed monetary amounts involved in the dispute, Englewood, Colo.-based DISH, in its own statement, said Raycom is seeking to quadruple what the satellite provider has been paying to put the signals on its network.

Such conflicts in contract negotiations between TV stations, cable TV operators, satellite companies and content providers such as ESPN and the major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — have become more common in recent years.

For instance, CBS and Time Warner Cable — one of the largest cable operators in the U.S., but not in the Columbus market — are now at a standoff over the broadcast network’s demand to double its per-subscriber charge from $1 to about $2, The New York Times reported Monday. Industry analysts are anticipating it could be an extended battle between the two.

Even satellite firm DirecTV weighed in on that one, saying that some of its own customers across the U.S. are “feeling trapped and helpless” because Time Warner may be their Internet provider, with the broadcast network now denying them online CBS content.

“In trying to protect our own customers, DirecTV has certainly had its share of these battles, so we applaud Time Warner Cable for fighting back against exorbitant programming cost increases,” El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV said in a statement.

Colleen Abdoulah, chairwoman and chief executive officer of WOW!, in an interview earlier this year with the Ledger-Enquirer, described the growing difficulties amid an evolving TV and online pricing landscape. WOW! bought out West Point, Ga.-based Knology in 2012, making the brand transition in the Columbus market this spring.

Abdoulah, who also is chairwoman of the American Cable Association, specifically mentioned the growing influence of the Internet and the need to make changes in outdated cable and communications regulations passed in the 1990s.

“The fact that content is so vast and diverse, and consumer appetite for video content over the Internet so great — when they want it, how they want it, on which devices they want to use it on — that I think content providers have to decide what the business model is going to look like,” she said, “because the current model isn’t sustainable.”

At her association’s annual summit earlier this year in Washington, D.C., Abdoulah noted that U.S. cable customers were cut off from broadcast programming a record 91 times last year, up from about 50 contract negotiation “blackouts” in 2011.

Aside from WTVM and WXTX in Columbus, DISH Network said the following Raycom TV stations/networks and cities are impacted by the current stalemate:

Cleveland, Ohio (CBS); Panama City, Fla. (Fox); Montgomery, Ala. (NBC); Knoxville, Tenn. (Fox); Savannah, Ga. (CBS); Toledo, Ohio (CBS, Fox); Richmond-Petersburg, Va. (NBC); Cincinnati, Ohio (Fox); Jonesboro, Ark. (ABC); Tyler-Longview, Texas (ABC); Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss. (ABC); Paducah, Ky. (CBS); Honolulu, Hawaii (CBS and NBC); Tucson, Ariz. (CBS); Shreveport, La. (CBS); Baton Rouge, La. (CBS); Charlotte, N.C. (CBS); Charleston, S.C. (CBS); Ottumwa-Kirksville, Mo. (Fox); Birmingham, Ala. (Fox); Dothan, Ala. (Fox); West Palm Beach, Fla. (Fox); Augusta, Ga. (Fox); Lubbock, Texas (NBC); Lake Charles, La. (NBC); Huntsville-Decatur, Ala. (NBC); Albany, Ga. (NBC); Louisville, Ky. (NBC); Hattiesburg-Laurel, Miss. (NBC); Wilmington, N.C. (NBC and Fox); Evansville, Ind. (NBC); Columbia, S.C. (NBC); Jackson, Miss. (NBC); Florence-Myrtle Beach, Fla. (NBC); and Memphis, Tenn. (NBC).

DISH said the blackout also includes CW and MyNetworkTV channels in Baton Rouge, Cleveland, Honolulu, Paducah and Richmond-Petersburg.

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