Tribune: Let FCC Monitor Dish Talks

Broadcaster rejects arbitration offer as ‘hollow’

Tribune Media called Dish Network’s plea for baseball-style arbitration to resolve their ongoing retransmission consent dispute as “hollow,” proposing instead that the Federal Communications Commission chairman’s office monitor negotiations.

Dish proposed binding arbitration to reach a deal earlier Thursday.

“Dish routinely makes these offers of arbitration instead of negotiating, and they are always rejected,” said Tribune Media senior vice president of corporate relations Gary Weitman in a statement.  “Arbitration is an expensive substitute for the negotiating process set up by Congress and Dish has a history of walking away from arbitration when the outcome goes against it.” 

Weitman continued: “We propose instead that we let the FCC Chairman's office monitor our negotiations with Dish through daily joint calls.  Doing so will make abundantly clear to the FCC and the public that it is Tribune Media, not Dish, that is negotiating in good faith to obtain an agreement at current market rates.”

About 42 Tribune stations in 33 markets went dark to Dish customers on Sunday. Dish has said Tribune is asking for too high an increase for its stations and is requiring the satellite company to carry its WGN America cable network. Tribune has countered that it is only asking for fair market value for its content.

“If Dish is serious about wanting to put our local stations back on their distribution system, the easiest path forward is to accept our repeated offer of an extension to Aug. 31, 2016 on a status quo basis and immediately restore our stations while we continue negotiating,” Weitman continued. “We renewed this offer again today to enable Dish subscribers in our markets to see tonight’s Game 6 of the NBA finals and this weekend’s U.S. Open Golf Tournament.  

Tribune also said that Dish has a spotty history with arbitration – claiming the company “subvert[s] the process when they lose by refusing to follow the arbitrator’s ruling.” Tribune pointed to a 2010 arbitration with Comcast/NBCUniversal where Dish took Comcast SportsNet California off the air when it lost arbitration.

The chairman's office declined comment, but Dish did not.

“Tribune claims that it is ‘seeking nothing more than fair market rates for the value of [its] programming – the same market rates that DISH pays other local station groups, and the same market rates that [it gets] from other satellite, cable and telco partners," said Warren Schlichting, DISH EVP, Programming.

“If Tribune is serious in its commitment to accept fair market rates, then there is no downside for them to immediately restore the Tribune channels on DISH while allowing a neutral third-party arbitrator to review DISH’s agreements with other station groups, as well as the rates that Tribune receives from our pay-TV competitors and determine the fair market rates that Tribune desires on a basis that is binding upon DISH and Tribune.  This is especially true since DISH has offered to retroactively pay any new rates back to the date that the channels are restored to consumers."  

“Regrettably, we can only interpret Tribune’s unwillingness to participate in binding arbitration as an indication that it actually is angling for rates that are above fair market..."