With yet another retrans battlefront opening with Cox Media Group, Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) may see as many as 84 stations go dark on its service tonight.
Dish's current broadcast retransmission deal with Cox and its stations expires at 7 p.m EST tonight — around the same time the satellite TV operators arrangement with Media General and its 70 stations ends.
"We are simply seeking a fair deal, which adequately values Atlanta's most watched local newscasts, award-winning local programs, and ABC news and entertainment programming that is paramount to our local viewers," said Tim McVay, VP and general manager of Cox-owned Atlanta ABC affiliate, WSB-TV.
"In fact, we are asking for far less than what Dish pays for national networks like ESPN – even though our ratings are much higher than ESPN's ratings," McVay added. "More importantly, those national networks don't offer seven hours each weekday of local news, provide no information during severe weather hitting our neighborhoods, or local school closings. The national cable networks have no local employees and offer nowhere near the same high-quality, compelling local programming that we provide."
Dish addressed the Cox issue on its customer facing DishPromise.com platform, saying, "We are still in negotiations and do not understand why Cox Broadcasting has chosen to involve our customers at this time. There is still time to reach a mutually beneficial deal. Negotiations regularly happen right up to the deadline and more often than not they are settled without issue."
Media General notified Dish customers earlier this week that they may lose access to local stations if a new deal isn't carved out by this evening. The station group, however, hasn't commented further.
Dish's last deal with Media General didn't come easy — it was signed after a 46-day blackout.
And the satellite operator has several other major negotiations going on right now. For one, it's using a clause in Comcast's 2011 regulatory agreement to acquire NBCUniversal. Dish told the FCC last week that it will settle a broad-reaching impasse with NBCU on retransmission and carriage in binding arbitration.
Dish is also in long-gestating talks with Viacom.
Media General is currently in the midst of a $4.6 billion takeover attempt by Nexstar Broadcasting. Certainly, anything like a 46-day blackout of a major pay-TV operator probably wouldn't sit too well with federal regulators right now.
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