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CBS aims to rally viewers amid Dish Network contract talks

With contract deadline looming, CBS takes to airwaves to alert Dish Network customers of possible outage

CBS is using its airwaves to alert Dish Network customers that one of their favorite stations soon could go dark.

The two media companies have been negotiating a new distribution agreement for CBS-owned television stations, including KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles. The current carriage agreement expires Thursday.

On Friday night, CBS began airing commercial messages in several cities, urging viewers to contact Dish Network. CBS also set up a website to rally customers, urging them to send a message to Dish or to even "switch providers."

The satellite TV giant immediately protested CBS' tactics.

“Only CBS can force a blackout of its channels," Dish said in statement late Friday. “We are unsure why CBS decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process at a point when there is time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal.”

CBS' pressure tactics appear to be part of a growing trend. In the past, companies would try to sort out their differences privately, and take their dispute public only after contract talks collapsed and an outage was imminent.

However, AMC Networks launched a similar campaign this month. During an episode of "The Walking Dead," AMC warned DirecTV customers that a contract dispute might lead to the removal of their channel from DirecTV systems -- even though AMC's contract with DirecTV runs through December.

"Dish is actively working to reach a deal [with CBS] before the contract expires," Dish said, adding that it has "successfully negotiated agreements representing hundreds of stations in recent months that benefit all parties, including our viewers."

A CBS spokesman declined to comment.

Dish customers currently are without CNN, Turner Classic Movies and Cartoon Network. Dish dropped those channels from its system last month after a carriage agreement with Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting unit expired.

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen told Wall Street analysts this month that despite the troubles with Turner Broadcasting, he was optimistic that his company would strike a deal with CBS.

"We've had a good relationship with CBS," Ergen said during a Nov. 4 conference call to discuss Dish earnings. "Certainly, CBS is a core product.... I would certainly think that you will see them on Dish."

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

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