Dish Claims Univision Breached Contract by Streaming Soccer Matches on Facebook

A court is asked to prohibit the Spanish-language broadcaster from putting its programming online.

Dish Network is claiming that Univision has undercut the value of a licensing deal by streaming soccer matches on Facebook. The sat-caster is now suing Univision for allegedly breaching contract in New York federal court.

The complaint was originally filed under seal earlier this month. This week, a redacted copy of the complaint was made public and reveals that Dish is aiming for a permanent injunction restraining Univision and its affiliates from allowing programming to be distributed via Facebook Live or for free via other internet or wireless services.

Much of the complaint focuses on the benefit to Dish of distributing soccer matches played in Mexico's top league, known as Liga MX. Dish states these matches are "a major viewing attraction for Hispanic-American television audiences — one might compare it to the National Football League in terms of the interest it generates."

Beginning on February 18, according to the complaint, Univision began streaming the soccer matches while at the same time airing them live on its broadcast network.

"The only difference is that the Facebook Live broadcasts are in English, which is accomplished by the Univision Entities and their affiliates using a different audio path and a switcher that replicates the Spanish-language graphics shown on DISH so that they appear in English," states the complaint. "And the Liga MX matches shown on Facebook Live are attributed to the Univision Deportes brand, one of the television programming services expressly contemplated by the Agreement as included among the Linear Services. A media report carried on UCI’s website as of the date of this Complaint, concerning the licensing deal with Facebook Live (which also included the broadcast of Major League Soccer matches), makes this clear."

Dish says the Facebook streams will make it less likely to attract subscriptions. Here's the complaint, which redacts crucial portions like exceptions to prohibitions in contract. The bid for injunctive relief appears to broad enough to beyond mere soccer programming. 

This isn't the first time that Dish has gone to war on digital distribution. More than four years ago, the company went to trial against ESPN on various claims including how the sports network allowed competitors to stream. On the flip side, Dish spent years on the defensive from broadcasters unhappy over the company's place-shifting technology Slingbox (which according to its website, was inspired by the desire to watching baseball games remotely).

A Univision spokesperson gave us this statement:

"UCI is disappointed in DISH's decision to file this suit. For more than a decade, UCI has partnered extensively with DISH to make it one of the most popular TV distribution services with Hispanic America. More people are watching our Liga MX games on our existing Spanish-language cable and broadcast TV networks, as evidenced by our year over year increase in Nielsen TV ratings. We are always looking for innovative ways to build audiences with new platforms. In fact, UCI was one of the first media companies to support DISH by making its popular Spanish-language broadcast and cable networks available on DISH's Sling TV service. We have also sought to expand the Liga MX audience by offering a select number of matches via a new English-language service on Facebook."