EchoStar-Viacom Dispute Nears Deadline

Scott Greczkowski

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Sep 7, 2003
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EchoStar-Viacom Dispute Nears Deadline

Associated Press
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Thousands of Dish Network customers in 15 major cities waited to find out whether they would be able to watch March Madness, soap operas and other television programming as a programming deadline approached in a dispute between EchoStar and Viacom.

A court order allowing the satellite television company to continue carrying about 20 channels owned by CBS parent Viacom Inc. during the contract dispute was set to expire at midnight PST. Neither company would comment on the negotiations Monday and an EchoStar spokesman did not return a call late Monday about any changes that might occur right after the deadline.

The dispute threatened to let some CBS stations go dark on Dish Network satellite service before CBS airs the NCAA college basketball tournament that begins March 18.

Viacom and EchoStar Communications Corp., which runs Dish Network, began sparring after a contract for the Dish Network to broadcast Viacom channels expired Dec. 31.

The contract was extended at least three times this year, voluntarily and by court orders, allowing EchoStar to continue airing the channels.

In January, EchoStar filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco alleging Viacom was illegally trying to force EchoStar to carry Viacom-owned MTV, Spike and other cable channels at unfair prices in exchange for the right to carry 18 CBS-owned stations in 15 big-city markets, including Denver.

EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen has said he would rather drop CBS in some cities than submit to Viacom's demands.

Viacom spokeswoman Susan Duffy said Monday that EchoStar has raised rates by as much as $3 per month yet balked at paying increases of less than 6 cents per month per subscriber for all of Viacom's networks.

"When Americans watch TV, they spend more than 20 percent of their time with our networks, yet our fees are less than 5 percent of what EchoStar generates from the average Dish customer," Duffy said.

The TV markets involved are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas.

EchoStar says the dispute could affect 1.6 million customers.

CBS affiliates in the affected cities posted notes on their station Web sites informing viewers of the dispute, and many scrolled notices.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar delivers hundreds of channels to 9 million subscribers nationwide.

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