Fight between DISH Network and Gannett may lead to WTSP-Ch. 10's removal from the service
For local DISH Network satellite TV customers, it may be the question of the moment:
Why exactly are they on the verge of losing CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 and 18 other local TV stations owned by Gannett Broadcasting across the country?
Gannett is telling viewers, through text streams which began running across their station’s TV screens Wednesday, it’s a typical fight over fees the company wants for the right for DISH to retransmit its broadcast signals.
But DISH Network issued a press release Friday saying the dispute is really over its ad-skipping technology, called “Auto Hop.”
According to a statement from DISH, Gannett has threatened to remove 19 stations from the satellite TV service if it doesn’t disable its Auto Hop feature allowing viewers using digital video recorders to skip commercials on TV’s top broadcast networks with one button push.
Fox, NBC and CBS have already sued DISH over the feature, which executives there have denounced as a threat to their business.
A source at Gannett said the allegation that Auto Hop is at the center of the retransmission fight is "completely false." DISH subscribers are about 4 percent of the Tampa Bay area TV market.
If true, this may be the first time a broadcaster used its retransmission agreements to threaten DISH, demanding the service either disable the feature or pay massive penalties equalling a 300 percent increase in fees, according to DISH. DISH also said Gannett turned down a 200 percent increase.
WTSP's website homepage urges DISH customers to click on a link which leads to a Q&A page in which basic questions about the dispute are answered.
But the fight over Auto Hop isn't mentioned; instead the page says "so far DISH has refused to reach a fair, market-based agreement with us," encouraging the service's customers to consider switching to rival companies such as Bright House Networks or Verizon FIOS.
Customers have grown used to fights over higher fees for new retransmission agreements. Those hikes have become important components of broadcasters' profit margins while hiking bills in a way that makes cable and satellite TV companies nervous.
But in this case, the two conflicting companies can't even agree on why they are at an impasse.
However this ends, it probably won't be pretty.