Dish Net Program Chief Eric Sahl to Exit

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Dish Network's chief programming negotiator, who has led the satellite provider through disputes with cable networks such as Gol TV and Voom HD, is exiting. But that doesn't mean that Dish will temper its willingness to drop TV stations and networks, according to analysts.

Eric Sahl, Dish Network's senior vice president of programming, is leaving at the end of the year, according to several officials familiar with the situation. Sahl's exit was first reported by the Sports Business Journal.

In addition to Sahl, David Goodfriend, the lobbyist who has run Dish Network's legislative-affairs office in Washington, may be exiting to form his own consulting company, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Goodfriend, who has held posts with various Democrats, was named Dish's chief Capitol Hill lobbyist two years ago. He will retain Dish Network as a client, the source said.

Dish Network and Goodfriend declined to comment last week. Sahl couldn't be reached for comment.

Sahl succeeded Michael Schwimmer, who left Dish Network in 2005 to become CEO of Sí TV. Sahl, a lawyer, reportedly is leaving because he unsuccessfully sought a promotion and larger role at Dish Network, and a closer working relationship with CEO Charlie Ergen, who advocates taking a hard line with programmers.

At one point, Sahl reported to Charter Communications veteran Carl Vogel, when he held the post of president of Dish Network. But after Vogel's son was injured in a skiing accident, Vogel stepped down as Dish president in February to take a less active role at the company, retaining the title of vice chairman, 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.

Dish Network remains embroiled in litigation with Rainbow Media's Voom HD, a bouquet of HD networks, and Gol TV. The satellite provider also faces tough retransmission-consent talks with the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision.

Voom HD has a suit pending against 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, who is often hands-on in programmer negotiations.

Gol TV, which Dish Network dropped Aug. 1 when its contract expired, has filed suit seeking license fees for earlier this year. In its answer, Dish said it made a payment to Gol TV Nov. 17.

The legal dust-ups with Gol TV and Voom HD are 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 — temporarily or permanently — including Lifetime and OLN (now renamed Versus).

Analysts don't expect that to change even when Sahl leaves, because they say that the hard-ball tactics reflect the strategy of Ergen.

“In order to remain the low-cost provider, they're going to negotiate very hard with programmers,” Janco Partners analyst April Horace said. “If they agree to just egregious increases in programming costs, they'll have to pass that through to the consumer.”

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