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The affiliates and satellite provider haven’t come to an agreement over retransmission fees.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Roanoke’s Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliate has been blacked out for Dish Network viewers, just five days before the network is set to air NASCAR’s historic Daytona 500 race featuring the first female driver to start on the front row.
Fox affiliate WFXR-TV (Channel 27) and its sister station and CW Network affiliate WWCW-TV (Channel 21) have been unavailable to Roanoke-Lynchburg Dish subscribers since Saturday because of a dispute between the stations’ parent company, Grant Broadcasting, and Dish Network.
Dish reaches about 70,000 viewers in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market. The blackout also comes in the middle of the important Nielsen sweeps period for television stations, when viewership is measured and advertising rates are set.
The dispute centers around retransmission fees that Dish pays to carry WFXR and WWCW programs. Dish officials claim that Grant is asking for three times as much money as it received in the previous retransmission agreement. Grant officials deny asking for a price increase that large.
The companies agreed to a couple of brief contract extensions before Dish dropped Grant’s broadcasts in Virginia; Davenport, Iowa; Huntsville, Ala.; and La Crosse, Wis. Grant owns four Fox stations, two CW stations and one MyNetwork station in those markets.
“We are disappointed that Grant has chosen to be unreasonable in its demands, as many Dish customers in the Grant markets enjoy their Fox programming,” Sruta Vootukuru, Dish director of programming, said in a statement. “Grant’s request that Dish pay three times what it paid just over a year ago is well beyond market rates, and we hope Grant will become more reasonable so we can make these channels available to our customers.”
Debbie Reardon, Grant’s Roanoke-based corporate director of marketing and spokeswoman, said that her company was surprised when the stations were bumped by Dish on Saturday. She said Grant was mulling a counteroffer from Dish and had planned a response on Monday. She said that the companies had agreed to extend the current deal until this Friday.
She also said that Grant had given written permission to Dish to continue airing its stations until a new contract agreement was reached.
“They still have our permission,” she said. “It was a huge shock to us Saturday morning when we were pulled off the air.”
However, according to the Dish statement, “without a signed contract from Grant, Dish has no legal right to carry those local channels,” so the satellite carrier dropped them.
The move comes days before Sunday’s Daytona 500, which has made headlines after driver Danica Patrick became the first woman to qualify for the race with the fastest time, also known as pole position. Grant officials are well aware that NASCAR broadcasts are enormously popular in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market.
Last year’s Daytona 500 was watched by 44 percent of the television-viewing audience in Roanoke-Lynchburg, according to The Nielsen Co.
“NASCAR is huge, even in Davenport, Iowa, and La Crosse, Wisconsin,” Reardon said. “And Danica Patrick is on the pole, so this is historic.”
Such disagreements over retransmission rights fees have become common in the past year, as two other Roanoke stations barely avoided being shut off of cable and satellite providers. WDBJ-TV (Channel 7) reached an 11th-hour agreement with Dish in December and WSLS-TV (Channel 10) reached a last-minute agreement with Cox Communications in May.
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