EchoStar Communications Corp. last week was forced to pull
two new channels, Speedvision and Outdoor Life, after the programmers filed a breach of
contract lawsuit and terminated delivery of the signals to EchoStar's Dish Network
Less than a week earlier, EchoStar had launched Speedvision
and Outdoor Life, along with The Outdoor Channel, on a three-channel tier called
"Action Plus," which sold for $4.99 per month.
Last Monday, Speedvision LLC and Outdoor Life LLC notified
EchoStar that the channels' carriage on the Action Plus tier was in violation of a
programming agreement signed in mid-November.
EchoStar released a statement blaming the "spurious
claim of breach of contract" on the networks' owners, Cox Communications Inc.,
Comcast Corp., MediaOne and Fox/Liberty Networks. The statement suggested the owners were
trying "to undermine Dish Network's satellite television business by withholding
some of the most requested programming" as a reaction to EchoStar's recently
announced deal with News Corp.
"Any allegation by EchoStar that this is some sort of
cable conspiracy is pure hogwash," said Roger Williams, executive vice president and
chief operating officer for Speedvision and Outdoor Life.
Williams said the signed agreement allowed EchoStar to
carry the networks in one of three ways, and EchoStar's packaging was inconsistent with
that agreement. He declined to specify details of the programming contract, citing the
The networks are asking a federal court to confirm the
violation and to award actual and statutory damages for copyright and trademark
"We're extremely confident we haven't
breached the contract in any way," said EchoStar vice president David Moskowitz,
adding the company had not yet had a chance to fully evaluate the lawsuit.
EchoStar intends to file counterclaims against the networks
"for significant damages," Moskowitz said. "We refuse to be intimidated by
these kinds of tactics."
Still, the direct-broadcast satellite provider would rather
not go to trial, and Moskowitz said he hopes the companies can work out a deal.
But carriage on EchoStar no longer seems to be the priority
for Speedvision and Outdoor Life. According to Williams, the lawsuit does not request that
EchoStar reinstate the channels on another programming package, such as Dish
Network's America's Top 40 or Top 100.
Earlier this fall, EchoStar announced that it would not
raise prices on its most popular packages before the year 2000. The company decided to
launch the three new channels on a separate tier, a spokesman said, to give Top 40
customers access to the channels without the need to upgrade their service to the Top 100
Besides Dish Network subscribers, another casualty in last
week's suit is The Outdoor Channel. While the service is still being transmitted,
free of charge, to Dish Network customers who ordered the Action Plus package during the
first week in December, the company is no longer taking new orders for the service until
the programming department determines where to package it.
EchoStar was the first DBS company to carry The Outdoor
Channel. Outdoor president Andy Dale said last week he was "ecstatic" over the
deal and had no issues with EchoStar.
Speedvision and Outdoor Life are available on competing DBS
services from DirecTv Inc. and PrimeStar Inc.