Updated at 9:15am Eastern, Oct. 2
HAIKU, HAWAII — DISH Network has certainly had its disputes with broadcast TV owners in the last year.
Just last week, a contentious battle between Citadel Communications and the DBS player ended with WLNE-6 in Providence and a sister station in Lincoln, Neb., securing coverage in their respective DMAs on Dish thanks to a new retransmission fee deal between the two entities.
Now, DISH has, by law, taken Lilly Broadcasting stations off of DISH in its latest dispute over retrans fees. This one had the American Cable Association peeved, because the ABC and CBS stations serving the U.S. Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were also yanked.
However, Satellite Business News late Sunday received notification from Lilly Broadcasting COO John Christianson that it can continue to carry its channels in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands “to help those that can still see the networks keep informed as to what is happening in their region.”
In a communiqué released by DISH Saturday evening (9/30), the Englewood, Colo.-based company said it “blacked out” DISH customers’ access to its stations in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and three other markets in New York, Pennsylvania and Hawaii.
As is the case in all retransmission fee disputes, cable companies and DBS providers prefer to use the phrase “blacked out.” In reality, the stations continue to broadcast and can be found via over-the-air reception and on other MVPDs.
Lilly stations were removed by DISH because without a retrans fee in place, DISH is unable to legally air any Lilly stations.
DISH says it was “unable to establish viable economic terms for a renewed retransmission agreement.” DISH further assailed Lilly for demanding from DISH and, “by extension, its customers, unreasonable rate increases.” It also slammed Lilly for allegedly refusing DISH’s offer to match the rates paid by other pay-TV providers.
Lilly has a differing view, just as Ray Cole, President/COO of Citadel does. Cole reached out to RBR+TVBR to note “factual misstatements and one-sided spin” in coverage of Citadel’s hard-fought accord with DISH. Cole declined to speak with RBR+TVBR.
DISH, along with the ACA, have highlighted the fact that the heavily impacted areas of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, are impacted by the Lilly/DISH impasse.
While much of Puerto Rico remains without power and parts of the Virgin Islands are equally troubled, those with DISH were no longer able to receive the following unique channels offered by Lilly for most of Sunday:
- One Caribbean Television, a satellite channel originating from Lilly’s Erie, Pa., headquarters that serves Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico)
- A unique satellite feed of its CBS-affiliated WSEE-TV, which DISH uses to provide network programming to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
- ABC-affiliated WENY-TV, a unique feed based at Lilly’s WENY-36 in Elmira-Corning, N.Y., that serves the Virgin Islands. This replaced former ABC affiliate WSVI-8 in St. Croix in January 2016.
Meanwhile, the markets of Erie, Pa., Elmira-Corning, N.Y., and all of Hawaii remain dark, with no immediate resolution to the DISH/Lilly conflict. As a result, DISH is unable to provide customers WENY-36 in Elmira-Corning and its DT-2 signal, which offers CBS programming to the Twin Tiers; Erie-market CW affiliate WBEP and NBC affiliate WICU-TV, in addition to WSEE-TV; and Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV-4 and its DT-2 MeTV affiliate.
KITV-4 and KITV-4.2 serve the entire state of Hawaii.
In a statement appearing Sunday morning (Hawaiian time) on the KITV website, the station noted that SJL Broadcasting, the licensee of KITV and a Lilly subsidiary, “is continuing its efforts to renew its carriage agreement with DISH after reaching an impasse.”
It directed DISH subscribers to try an over-the-air antenna, or switch to Spectrum (formerly Oceanic Time Warner Cable) or DirecTV.
“Every employee of our TV station lives here with you — we all give time, effort and money towards bettering our town,” KITV said in its statement. “Each of us feels terrible, we have no control over DISH’s decision to remove local channels from a service you pay for. The SJL Broadcasting negotiating team has been ready and available around-the-clock to engage in substantive negotiations with DISH, in hopes of concluding a fair agreement that reflects the current marketplace. We recognize viewers will be upset, and we share your frustration.”
Lilly’s SJL operation in Hawaii then took aim at DISH.
“Since 2015, DISH has been involved in nearly 60% of all carriage disputes with broadcasters—by far the largest amount of any pay TV operator,” it said. “In fact, DISH has refused to carry one or more broadcasters nearly every week since this past Christmas. In the end, DISH’s tactics will hurt their subscribers and you—our viewers. DISH is making subscribers pay for programming they are not receiving. That just isn’t fair.”
It then called on DISH to offer refunds or credits to subscribers who are not receiving KITV.
“We hope DISH shares our sense of urgency in keeping KITV on for its subscribers,” the station said. “We appreciate the patience and support of viewers such as you, and we will continue to work diligently to reach a fair agreement that reflects the value of our stations in the current market place.”
SJL/Lilly stations in April were dropped from DirecTV for nearly two weeks, also due to a retransmission fee impasse.
Thursday (10/5) marks the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Cable Act and retransmission consent.
— Compiled by RBR+TVBR Maui correspondents.