Eric Sahl, Dish Network’s chief programming negotiator, may not be the only executive leaving the company, sources said Thursday. David Goodfriend, who has run Dish Network’s legislative affairs office in Washington, may be exiting to form his own consulting company, according to sources.
Goodfriend, a Democrat, would retain Dish Network as a client, the sources said. He declined to comment, as did Dish Network. Sahl couldn’t be reached for comment.
Sahl succeeded Michael Schwimmer as Dish Network’s senior vice president of programming, when Schwimmer left the satellite provider in the summer of 2005 to become CEOof Si TV.
Sahl is leaving Dish Network at the end of the year, sources familiar with the situation confirmed. His exit was first reported earlier this week by the Sports Business Journal.
Sahl has lead Dish Network through disputes with broadcasters and cable services such as Voom HD. Dish is expected to continue to take a hard line with cable networks and TV stations alike, with no fear of dropping them, as that is the mandate of CEO Charlie Ergen.
Sahl, a lawyer, reportedly is leaving after he unsuccessfully sought a promotion and larger role at Dish Network, and a closer working relationship with Ergen, sources said.
At one point, Sahl reported to Charter Communications veteran Carl Vogel, when he was president of Dish Network. But after Vogel’s son got injured in a skiing accident a year ago, Vogel stepped down as president in February to take a less active role at the company, retaining the title of vice chairman and leading corporate development and programming.
Subsequently another Charter veteran, Tom Cullen, Dish’s executive vice president of corporate development, saw his duties expanded to include programming, media sales and business television, creating another layer between Sahl and Ergen.
Sahl is leaving Dish Network as it remains embroiled in litigation with Voom HD, a suite of HD networks that is part of Rainbow Media, and faces tough retransmission-consent talks with the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision.
Voom has a suit pending against EchoStar, now known as Dish Network, seeking $1 billion in damages because the satellite provider dropped its suite of 15 HD channels in May.
Sahl was involved in talks relating to that dispute, as was Ergen.
Dish Network contends that it had the right to terminate its carriage deal with Voom HD because the programmer violated the terms of that contract. In turn, Voom HD alleges that it is Dish Network that has breached that affiliation agreement.
The legal dust-up with Voom HD is just the latest in a long list of battles between the satellite provider and cable networks and broadcasters, fights that have sometimes resulted in channels or stations being dropped, including Lifetime Television, OLN and Gol TV.
Analysts don’t expect that to change even when Sahl leaves, because they say that the hardball tactics reflect the strategy and mindset of Ergen.
“That’s all in part driven by Dish’s goal of being the low-cost provider,” said April Horace, an analyst at Janco Partners. “In order to remain the low-cost provider, they’re going to negotiate very hard with programmers. Otherwise, if they agree to just egregious increases in programming costs, they’ll have to pass that through to the consumer…Programmers always want more, and providers don’t want to pay more.”
She added that in terms of negotiations with programmers, Ergen has taken an active role alongside Sahl.
“Charlie runs a pretty tight ship over there and is probably more involved in programming negotiations than most CEOs,” Horace said.