CBS Accuses Dish Network of "Dragging Its Feet" During Contract Negotiations

The network has been running ads warning Dish customers they might lose live NFL games

CBS is accusing Dish Network of "deliberately dragging its feet for months" instead of striking a new carriage deal, and the network says that the provider of satellite TV services pays "considerably more money to much lesser-watched cable networks that what CBS is asking."

Dish's current distribution deal with the 14 TV stations that CBS owns ends on Thursday, and CBS has been warning customers in those markets that its programming could be interrupted absent a new arrangement.

The markets that could be affected include some of the nation's largest, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Denver. In the latter, CBS has been running ads warning Dish customers that they are at risk of losing live coverage of Denver Broncos NFL games and SEC football games, as well as new episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

The network has also created a website, KeepCBS.com, where consumers are provided telephone numbers and email addresses so they may contact Dish and presumably lobby the provider to strike a deal before Thursday's deadline.

The CBS statement issued to the press on Tuesday says that CBS is the No. 1 network on Dish, and it infers that Dish is being unreasonable, given that CBS has "successfully negotiated with every other cable and satellite distributor."

Dish has responded with a statement of its own, reading: "Only CBS can force a blackout of its channels. ... We are unsure why CBS decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process at a point when there is time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal."

Dish and CBS have both been playing hardball lately when it comes to carriage negotiations, with the network under pressure to increase the fees that it gets from providers while Dish is trying to rein in costs.

Along those lines, CBS was off Time Warner Cable for a month last year due to a contract dispute that analysts say was eventually settled to CBS' advantage, while Dish recently stopped carrying Time Warner's Turner channels like CNN and Cartoon Network. During Dish's recent earnings call, chairman Charlie Ergen called the situation with Turner a "nonevent," and he hinted that TBS and TNT are also expendable if those prices are set too high for his liking.

Dish also has negotiations for a new deal with 21st Century Fox on the docket, and Rupert Murdoch, the conglomerate's CEO and chairman, was asked recently if he expected Ergen to treat the Fox News Channel as dismissively as he has CNN. "There's no way that he would challenge Fox News," Murdoch said.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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