Dish Network Asks Tribune Media To Let An Arbitrator Resolve Contract Dispute

Dish Network returned fire this morning at Tribune Media, which yesterday accused the No. 2 satellite company of failing to respond to a contract proposal that would restore distribution of its 42 TV stations and WGN America.

Dish asked Tribune to agree to “binding, baseball-style arbitration” that would “determine the fair market value of their channels” — and, in the meantime, allow the satellite company to air the services that went dark on Sunday.  That left about 5 million satellite customers unable to see Tribune stations, and about 7 million unable to watch WGNA.

In baseball arbitration, a mediator judges the merits of each party’s positions. But the person can only choose among the last, best offers that the antagonists propose, not devise his or her own solution. Comcast agreed in 2010 to baseball-style arbitration to resolve programming disputes — without blackouts — as a condition to receiving FCC approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal.

“We want to return these local stations to our customers immediately, and binding, baseball-style arbitration offers a path to reach a fair deal and to serve the best interests of our customers,” Dish EVP of Programming Warren Schlichting says.

The company says it objects to Tribune’s “significant price increases” for its stations. In addition, Dish says that Tribune wants to “force bundle” them with WGNA — which the satellite distributor calls “an unrelated and low-performing cable channel.”

Tribune says that it’s offering terms that are consistent with other deals it has made — but Dish hasn’t negotiated in good faith.

“We repeatedly offered Dish an extension through the end of August, more than 60 days, for precisely this reason—they drag their feet in negotiations,” the broadcaster said yesterday. “Dish rejected every offer, which demonstrates a total disregard for their customers and our viewers.”

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