Contract dispute threatens to knock Chattanooga's Channel 12 off air

Contract dispute threatens to knock Chattanooga's Channel 12 off air

October 1st, 2013 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

The Bulldogs and Vols square off Saturday on CBS, but a down-and-dirty contract dispute between Dish Network and provider Morris Network may mean that Chattanooga Dish subscribers won't get the big game.

Morris Network's carriage agreement with Dish was set to expire at midnight Monday, which would mean Dish subscribers would no longer receive WDEF-TV, the local CBS affiliate.

But Morris said in a statement Monday that the company offered Dish a short-term extension to keep Channel 12 on air through 7 p.m. Friday while negotiations continue.

Meanwhile, Dish customers aren't happy about the possibility of missing the region's most potent rivalry game.

"As a Dish customer, if I lose Channel 12, I'll switch to EPB before you can say Fiber Optics," Jami Henry wrote on the Times Free Press Facebook page.

"I'm tired of this happening with every local station that comes up for a new contract with Dish," wrote Kathleen Cain. "I'm going to look into something different."

Neither company returned requests for comment Monday, but both issued statements slamming the opposing company and calling for a resolution to the dispute.

Dish said that Morris Network is hiking the price to three times higher than Dish's current rate, which the company called 'excessive.'

"Broadcasters like Morris put profits ahead of the public they are supposed to serve," said Dave Shull, Dish executive vice president and chief commercial officer, in a prepared statement. "It is ironic that Morris is threatening its customers as Dish recently sat before Congress to discuss meaningful retransmission consent reform."

But Morris Network said the company is asking for 'market-based' rates that are consistent with what cable companies are paying.

"Morris Network has successfully negotiated hundreds of agreements over the years with its various video distribution partners and has never had an impasse resulting in a disruption of service," reads the company's statement. "Dish, in contrast, has had at least 28 service disruptions with broadcasters in the past three years alone."

The only information the two companies agreed on is which markets would be affected. Viewers in six markets in Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina will lose access to various channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, if the companies can't agree by Friday.

Some Chattanoogans said the dispute only highlights the benefits of digital antennas or devices like Roku, which stream content from the Internet to individual TVs.

"The more contract disputes that come up, the more frustrated customers get and seek these alternatives," Jeff Look wrote on the Times Free Press Facebook page. "I personally got rid of the TV provider, bought an HD antenna for local channels and use Hulu Plus. The move has been great."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.