Washington – Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Broadcasting on Thursday asked a federal judge in Florida to block EchoStar from offering ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox programming to hundreds of thousands of viewers around the country.
If Fox’s legal move pays off, EchoStar subscribers that lose access might decide to turn to DirecTV for their network programming. Murdoch’s News Corp. owns a controlling stake in DirecTV.
At issue is the delivery of “distant network” programming. Satellite carriers are allowed to beam the Big Four signals from New York and sell them to customers around the country, but those consumers are ineligible if they can pick up their local affiliates with an antenna.
A federal appeals court found that EchoStar sold the programming to hundreds of thousands of ineligible subscribers, ordering a lower court to issue an injunction that would ban EchoStar from providing distant network signals to anyone, even legally eligible customers.
On Monday, EchoStar announced a settlement with the independent affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, hoping to moot issuance of the injunction. But Fox Network and Fox local stations, both controlled by News Corp., refused to go along with the effort to bring the eight-year-old case to a close.
Fox’s filing Thursday sets up a key ruling by U.S. Judge William Dimitrouleas, who sits in Ft. Lauderdale. In the view of some, the judge can issue an injunction with regard only to Fox programming, allowing consumers to continue to receive ABC, CBS, and NBC programming from EchoStar.
In its motion, Fox claimed that Dimitrouleas had only one legal option: the “issuance of a nationwide permanent injunction ...” that would stop EchoStar from providing distant network service involving any of the Big Four networks. Fox’s filing said the settlement can’t trump Dimitrouleas’s obligation to issue the blanket injunction as required by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
The case is not about EchoStar’s ability to provide local TV stations within their home markets. As part of the settlement, EchoStar agreed to expand local service from 165 market to 175 by Dec. 31 and pay $100 million to the stations.
EchoStar, which has 12 million subscribers, said that less than a million purchase distant network signals. Subscribers that lose distant network service in many case could rely on EchoStar’s local signal package. By offering local signals in 175 markets, 95% of U.S. households can view their local TV stations via EchoStar’s satellites.