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Fox Sports Southwest pulled from Dish Network

Posted 7:55am on Wednesday, Oct. 06, 2010

In one of those wars of words, websites and fee disputes that arises every now and then between a media company and a cable/satellite provider, Fox has pulled 19 regional sports channels nationwide, including Fox Sports Southwest, from Dish Network's lineup.

As part of the move, which occurred this weekend, Fox has also pulled cable channels such as National Geographic Channel and FX, which airs cult-favorite series like Sons of Anarchy and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And as is common in these disputes, both sides are pointing fingers.

Dish says that Fox was asking for too high a retransmission fee for the channels.

"It's unfortunate that Fox is demanding a more than 50 percent rate increase for continued transmission of the sports channels, an amount unheard of in our industry," a Dish statement says. "Fox ... refused our offer of an extension while we continued to negotiate. We are still in talks and hope we can reach a fair deal soon."

Fox, owned by News Corp., says that it has tried to reach a deal with Dish for six months.

"We have made fair and reasonable proposals that are consistent with our agreements with hundreds of other cable or satellite companies with which Dish competes," Mike Hopkins, president, Fox Networks affiliate sales and marketing, said in a statement. "[Dish has] yet to engage in a constructive dialogue."

Hopkins noted that on Oct. 31, Dish's agreement to carry Fox television stations also expires. If the companies can't come to an agreement, that could mean that Fox-owned stations such as KDFW/Channel 4 and MyNetwork affiliate KDFI/Channel 27 will also be off Dish.

Hopkins, who was unavailable for additional comment, also said in the statement that it's "flatly wrong" to suggest that Fox is seeking a 50 percent fee increase and that Dish is being "disingenuous" for suggesting that Fox is bullying its customers.

Such disputes have often been resolved at the last minute. For instance, Fox and Time Warner Cable had a similar dispute over fees at the end of 2009, but it was resolved in time for Time Warner customers to see TCU play in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4.

But more recently, the disputes have become harder to resolve. AT&T U-verse, for example, recently stopped carrying Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel as part of a similar dispute. A Dish spokeswoman says that the tough economy has led the company to take a tougher stance in such disputes.

"Our customers come to us because we've long been known as the low-price leader," she said in an e-mail. "Many simply can't afford to pay more [for monthly service], and that's why we are standing up to programmers' unfair demands so we aren't forced to raise prices on customers."

Both Dish and Fox have set up websites pleading their cases to customers. Dish has actually set up several, many of which encourage customers to call the president of a regional sports channel to talk about the dispute (the North Texas-related website is www.howmuchmorecanwetake.com). Fox has set up getwhatipaidfor.com, which gives its side of the dispute. Both sites suggest alternative viewing options.

The dispute has also led some observers to urge the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to change retransmission consent rules so that satellite or cable customers won't lose channels during disputes.

"[This] is another example of consumer vulnerability to outdated transmission rules," Paul Raak, vice president of legislative affairs for the Independent Telephone & Television Alliance, said in a statement. "ITTA has recommended ... that federal rules should establish immediately one or more dispute-resolution mechanisms to protect consumers."

Phillip Swann, president and publisher of TVPredictions.com, a technology-centric TV website, suggests that the FCC use an arbitration system similar to one used in Major League Baseball.

"The arbitrator would determine how much the TV provider should pay for the programmer's channel after hearing arguments from both sides," Swann wrote recently. "And the channels would stay on the air until the arbitrator's decision is handed down."

Because the American League Division Series airs on TBS, the dispute will not affect coverage of Texas Rangers postseason games.

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872

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