Dish-Citadel Retrans Flap Results In Four Station Drops

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In a retransmission-consent dispute with Citadel Communications, Dish Network Friday dropped four TV stations in Iowa and Nebraska from its lineup.

In a press statement, the satellite provider said that Citadel “forced” it to remove WHBF, a CBS affiliate in Davenport, Iowa; WOI, an ABC affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa; KLKN, an ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Neb.; and KCAU, an ABC affiliate in Sioux City, Iowa, from its roster.

The stations were dropped after midnight Aug. 1. Dish Network’s retransmission-consent deal with Citadel expired July 31, and the satellite company is balking at the price increase Citadel wants for carriage of its stations.

“The absence of a contract means that Dish Network is not longer” able to provide the four stations to its subscribers, the satellite company said in a press release.

Dish Network claims that Citadel is “demanding unreasonable contract terms and an excessive rate increase for continued carriage” of its TV stations. Dish Network said that it is challenging such “strong-arm” tactics.

“It is unfortunate that Citadel Communications has forced us into this situation and caused this disruption to our customers,” Eric Sahl, Dish Network’s senior vice president of programming, said in a prepared statement.

The broadcaster, in turn, maintained that it is only seeking fair compensation, and that Dish is being “disingenuous” and “ludicrous” and making “inflammatory” statements.

Citadel president Ray Cole said that Dish Network has had the broadcaster’s retransmission-consent proposal since May 23, and that the TV station group is only seeking a fee increase in line with what Dish is paying other network-affiliated stations.

Dish didn’t respond in any “substantive way” until July 21, and the talks that resulted were “disappointing and less than productive,” Cole said.

Meanwhile, the four stations in aggregate have received thousands of calls and e-mails about the drops by Dish Network.

On the channel slots that formerly offered the Citadel stations, Dish Network has been running what Cole called “a quasi infomercial” featuring Sahl. That infomercial also includes the names and phone numbers of the station managers and advertisers on the stations, according to Cole.

“Now they are the following the (Dish Network CEO) Charlie Ergen playbook,” he said. “They are directing the outrage from viewers who are their customers to us, which does not move us any closer to an agreement….Placing consumers in the middle of a business dispute such as this serve no purpose. It will not move us closer to an agreement that is mutually acceptable.”

According to Cole, “If their goal is to move us closer to a deal, their tactics in the last 12 hours have failed. If their goal is to overwhelm us with calls and inquiries from viewers, then they succeeded.”

Dish Network at one point during negotiations sought a retransmission-consent extension, which Citadel denied.

“We signaled to them early on, and we signaled to them loudly, that absent a retrans agreement, they would have to take our signals down on July 31,” Cole said. “If there was a sincere desire on their part to negotiate an agreement that was fair and reasonable to both parties, we could have gotten it done in 30 minutes.” 

He’s hopeful that Citadel will be able to hammer out an agreement with the satellite provider.

“We sincerely regret that our viewers, especially many faithful ones, find themselves in the middle of an unfortunate and unnecessary business dispute,” Cole said. “We pledge to them that is that we will work diligently to reach an agreement with Dish that is fair and reasonable to both parties. We can only hope that the good folks at Dish Network will make in short order make the same kind of pledge.” 

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