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Fox, Dish Network resolve dispute

Signals from regional sports networks and the FX and National Geographic channels are restored.

October 30, 2010|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times

Fox Networks' dispute with satellite broadcaster Dish Network, which led to a monthlong blackout on Dish of Fox's regional sports networks as well as the FX channel and the National Geographic Channel, was resolved Friday when the two companies agreed on a new multiyear contract.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Fox immediately restored the signals of its 19 regional sports channels, including Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West, and the two national channels that had been off the Dish system since Oct. 1.

Dish Network, based in Englewood, Colo., has 14.3 million customers, including more than 600,000 in the Los Angeles region.

The comprehensive agreement included higher payments for the signals of Fox's local television stations, including KTTV-TV Channel 11 and KCOP-TV Channel 13 in Los Angeles, according to people familiar with the terms. For more than a year, media companies including News Corp.'s Fox have been demanding payments for their over-the-air broadcast signals to bolster revenue at a time when scripted programming costs and sports rights fees have skyrocketed.

The new agreement lifted the threat that Fox would yank the signal of its local stations Monday, when its previous contract was set to expire. Pulling those signals would have prevented Dish customers from watching such popular network programming as "House," "Glee" and the World Series if the baseball championship spilled into next week.

Local sports fans will be able to see this weekend's UCLA football game and Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings hockey games. Dish was under pressure to settle its feud with Fox as another sports league, the NBA, opened its regular season.

Thousands of Dish subscribers canceled their service as the battle dragged on, according to industry executives.

The main hang-up during the stalemate was over payments for the sports channels and whether Dish would make them available to all of its subscribers. Satellite and cable operators pay Fox as much as $4 a month per subscriber for its sports channels, more than four times the cost of a general entertainment channel such as TNT. In its public campaign, Dish tried to paint Fox as a greedy "global media cartel" out to gouge consumers.

While Fox fell short in its bid to get wider distribution on Dish for its sports channels, it succeeded in wrangling higher payments for all its channels.

"Fox is definitely the winner here; they are going to be paid quite a bit of money," said Derek Baine, cable television analyst with SNL Kagan. "I didn't understand Dish's PR strategy. If you are a consumer, you just want your channels and you don't care about the back-room negotiations between the programmers and the distributors."

The deal with Dish doesn't affect Fox's ongoing tangle with Cablevision Systems Corp. Viewers in more than 3 million homes in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey have been missing Fox broadcasts of the World Series, the NFL and shows including "Family Guy."

"I urge Fox and Cablevision to complete their negotiations and end the impasse that has disrupted service to viewers," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

meg.james@latimes.com

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