published Friday, August 17th, 2012

Dish Network avoids ABC blackout ... for now

Luken Communications Vice President Matt Winn walks among the Dish Network's 10 satellite dishes atop the TV empire located on East Eighth Street.
Luken Communications Vice President Matt Winn walks among the Dish Network's 10 satellite dishes atop the TV empire located on East Eighth Street.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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Dish Network customers will continue to see ABC shows despite a contract dispute between the carrier and local network affiliate.

Signal Mountain resident Bill Chapman feared he'd be without ABC's Good Morning America during his regular workout Thursday morning. The contract that allowed Dish to carry WTVC-TV9 was set to expire that morning.

"I've got a workout room in the house and I flipped the TV to channel 9 and I said, 'Gosh, we have a picture,'" Chapman said Thursday. "I was quite relieved."

Dish and WTVC owners Sinclair Broadcast Group are close to an agreement. The two extended their expired contract for two weeks so Dish subscribers in 45 markets across the country wouldn't lose channels as the companies hammered out the final details.

The two companies disagreed over the rate Dish would pay to transmit the station. Dish's "Hopper" was a particular sticking point. The technology allows viewers to cut out commercials, a major revenue source for stations like WTVC.

Over the next two weeks, Dish and Sinclair will continue to negotiate. If a contract isn't signed by the end of that period, the two companies will likely either extend the contract again or WTVC's signal will be dropped.

But Dish spokesman Aaron Johnson said a final agreement is within reach.

"We're close," he said. "We continue to have their signal up and if there were major differences I think it would be down."

Sinclair representatives were unavailable for comment Thursday.

According to surveys by Scarborough Research last year, 107,451 people, or 15 percent of all TV viewers in the Chattanooga viewing area, are connected to the Dish Network.

Subscribers such as Chapman were relieved Thursday to still have channel 9. At the end of 2011, Dish and WRCB Channel 3 had a similar dispute that led to a seven-week blackout.

Chapman has been a Dish subscriber for years. He's generally happy with his service, but after two disputes with local networks, he worries about the company's future.

"We'll certainly stay at least through the contract term, but then I'll take a look," he said. "I'll take a real hard look if something comes up with channel 12."

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