In the fiercest retransmission-consent fight ever, EchoStar Communications Corp. yanked the signals of Viacom Inc.’s cable networks and broadcast owned-and-operated stations off its Dish Network, leaving many channel slots dark or, according to some viewers, with a message from EchoStar chief Charlie Ergen to contact CBS GMs to complain.
EchoStar dropped CBS O&Os signals in 15 markets serving 1.6 million Dish subscribers, and stripped out 10 cable nets, including MTV, BET, VH1 and Nickelodeon, for all 9.5 million subscribers.
“This is channel-yanking by a distributor on an unprecedented scale,” said MTV Networks President Mark Rosenthal. He said that EchoStar wants to cut it’s license fee for CBS O&Os by 60%. Viacom, in turn, wants to raise license fees for all its services by “well less than 10%”. “This is not something we wanted to happen.”
EchoStar counters that Viacom is asking too much, including carriage of cable channels EchoStar doesn't want. Once a court injunction allowing it to carry the Viacom channels absent an agreement ran out March 8, it had not option but to pull those channels, it said.
Although EchoStar said it hasn’t gotten many subscriber calls, the company’s website crashed from traffic and it was difficult to get through to its switchboard most of Tuesday.
Viacom said it was getting flooded by EchoStar subscribers and had to tap a telemarketing company to open three call centers to handle the traffic.
Viacom was encouraging EchoStar subs to sign up with another satellite or cable provider if they wanted its stations and networks. Meanwhile, DirecTV was pitching itself as ready to take up the slack.