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Stalled talks leave Dish customers without Tribune TV stations, WGN America

WGN America’s series “Underground”
Dish Network has dropped WGN America, the cable home of the series “Underground,” along with parent company Tribune Media’s TV stations across the U.S., in a dispute over carriage fees.
(WGN America)

Dish Network customers throughout the country have been without programming from Tribune Media’s 42 TV stations - including Los Angeles CW affiliate KTLA - since Sunday night as the two companies are deadlocked over a new carriage fee agreement.

The Englewood, Colo.- based TV satellite provider – which serves around 14 million subscribers across the U.S. –  is looking to cut what it pays to carry Tribune TV station signals as it tries to control programming costs that are often passed on to customers. Chicago-based Tribune Media is looking to get a rate comparable to what it receives from other video providers.

The dispute has led to a volley of press statements with each side accusing the other of intransigence.

“Dish offered to extend the contract so that consumers would have continued access to the Tribune channels while negotiations continued,” said Dish spokesperson John Hall. “Tribune rejected our offer. Only Tribune can cause a channel blackout.  Rather than continuing to negotiate in good faith, Tribune chose to remove their channels from Dish. Rather than negotiate in the press, we suggest that Tribune respond to our last offer with a meaningful and fair offer for our customers.”

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Tribune Media spokesperson Gary Weitman said his company has not received a response to a proposal submitted to Dish after its channels were dropped late Sunday.

“It has been more than 48 hours and we’ve had zero response to it,” Weitman said. “And as a result of Dish’s unresponsiveness, their subscribers suffer the consequences —missing important local news and entertainment programming as well as one-of-a-kind live sporting events like the NBA Finals and The U.S. Open golf tournament.  We stand ready to negotiate, but we can’t do so alone.”

Privately, Tribune Media executives believe their stations have greater value to viewers since their last agreement with Dish was signed in 2013. Through recent acquisitions, the station group has increased its number of Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates.

Dish contends that along with being asked to pay a “significant” increase for the Tribune TV channels, the company is demanding carriage of WGN America, which it describes as “an unrelated and low-performing cable channel.”

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Tribune believes it has enhanced WGN America with original programming, including the critically lauded “Underground.” The channel has also been pulled from Dish as part of the dispute.

Dish said it’s providing customers with over-the-air TV antennas that can receive broadcast station signals for free without its satellite service.

But time could be on Tribune’s side as the National Football League season approaches in September. Customers upset at the prospect of missing NFL games carried by Fox, CBS and NBC typically inundate cable and satellite providers with complaints when channels are pulled in such disputes.

Tribune Media is a separate corporate entity from Tribune Publishing, the owner of the Los Angeles Times.


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