After each spearheaded a flurry of retrans-related blackouts to start 2017, the faceoff between Dish Network and Hearst Television is playing out as the rhetorical equivalent of a classic heavyweight championship bout.
On Tuesday, it was the broadcaster’s turn to come out swinging, with Hearst President Jordan Wertlieb delivering several haymakers in a letter sent to Dish-subscribing Hearst viewers.
“Unfortunately, if you’re a Dish subscriber, you’ve probably become accustomed to this phenomenon,” Wertlieb said. “Over the past several years, Dish has been the most egregious abuser of pay-TV disputes within the industry. While the length of these disputes has varied, in numerous instances Dish has had outages that have lasted several months. Unfortunately, to date Dish’s lack of engagement and unwillingness to present a fair proposal suggest that Dish intends to employ their age-old strategy of a long-term impasse.”
Hearst took 33 of its network affiliates in 26 markets off Dish on March 3 after the two sides failed to come to an agreement on a new broadcast retransmission licensing deal.
Each has accused the other of walking away from negotiations. Dish said last week that it offered Hearst the same retrans terms it already agreed to in order to resolve a January impasse with DirecTV, but was rebuffed. Dish accused Hearst of trying to double its fees in the new contract.
“In recent months, Hearst Television has successfully completed a number of distribution agreements with other pay-TV providers,” Wertlieb said. “We have consistently sought to negotiate a deal that reflects the current marketplace, as represented by those deals. In response, Dish has simply engaged in doublespeak. On the one hand Dish has publicly stated that they’re willing to accept other deals that Hearst Television has successfully concluded; yet, at the same time, Dish continues to offer us terms, including rates, that are so obviously below the marketplace that they could not be viewed as a genuine proposal by any objective participant.”
It’s the second major retrans blackout already for Hearst this year, which turned the lights out on DirecTV for several days in January. It’s Hearst’s second blackout on Dish in the last three years, with the two companies locking horns in spring 2014, as well.
Dish, meanwhile, has already had impasses with Gray Television and Bonten Media this year that have involved short blackouts.