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Univision channels go dark on Dish Network and Sling TV due to contract impasse

Univision channels go dark on Dish Network and Sling TV due to contract impasse
Univision-owned channels were removed from Dish Network satellite TV system and streaming service Sling TV on Saturday when the two sides failed to reach a new contract. (Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images)

Three Spanish-language networks owned by Univision Communications were removed from Dish Network’s satellite television system and its Sling TV streaming service on Saturday after the two companies failed to reach a new carriage agreement.

The blackout affected Univision-owned broadcast stations, including two in Los Angeles: KMEX-TV Channel 34 and UniMas station KFTR-TV Channel 46. Cable channel Galavision was included in the outage. Sling TV customers also lost access to those channels as well as Univision’s popular sports channel.

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It was not immediately clear how long the outage might last.

Negotiations to hammer out a new distribution deal hit a snag Friday — on the eve of the contract deadline, according to the Englewood, Colo.-based Dish Network. The talks “reached an apparent impasse following untenable demands by the programmer,” Dish said in its statement.

Univision has been seeking higher fees to bring its Spanish-language channels closer to those charged by English-language networks, such as ABC, NBC and CBS. But Dish has balked at Univision’s demands and declined Univision’s offer of a two-week contract extension to continue the talks.

Contract extensions are typical when the two sides are making progress toward a new agreement, but that does not appear to be the case in this situation. Dish said the New York-based Spanish-language media company has been demanding 75% higher fees even though Univision channels have been experiencing ratings declines, particularly for its soapy telenovelas.

“It is outrageous that Dish has rejected our offer of a two-week contract extension,” Univision said in a statement Saturday. “While Dish has routinely used blackouts against broadcasters— its 68 broadcast blackouts since 2010 are significantly more than any other distributor in that time — Univision expected Dish to take our negotiations and its commitment to Hispanic consumers seriously.”

The company said it is ready to continue negotiating so that it can restore service for customers “missing our coverage of the Mexican presidential election, which many are calling ‘the biggest election in Mexican history.’”

Univision is owned by a consortium of private equity firms led by Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban.

Dish, too, has been dealing with its own struggles with customer retention and the satellite TV giant is loath to fork out higher fees that would raise the costs of programming for its 13 million consumers, including 2.3 million who subscribe to Sling TV.

Four or eight years ago, a July blackout of Univision channels would have been catastrophic. Univision previously televised the FIFA World Cup but NBCUniversal’s Telemundo outbid Univision for the rights, so the soccer matches currently are playing on Telemundo. That switch also gives Univision less leverage in negotiations with pay-TV distributors like Dish.

Dish could not resist making digs at Univision for its declining ratings — and the situation. The company said it would install a free digital antenna for customers who complained. Dish also said it was planning to launch a channel to teach English to Spanish-speaking viewers.

“We have served the Hispanic community for nearly 20 years, and as the leading provider of TV packages in English and Spanish, we owe it to our customers to deliver the best content at the best value,” Alfredo Rodríguez Diaz-Marta, vice president of Dish Latino and Sling Latino, said in a statement. "We hope Univision will reconsider its demands and help us reach a swift, fair resolution."

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