Viacom, EchoStar reach deal; channels back on Dish

Wed, 03/10/2004 - 7:00pm

Copyright 2004 Gannett Company, Inc.


March 11, 2004, Thursday, FIRST EDITION

EchoStar Communications and CBS parent Viacom announced early today that they have reached a deal that would restore Viacom channels to the Dish Network.

The deal ends the dispute that has blacked out Viacom cable networks in 9.5 million Dish homes nationwide and CBS for 1.6 million of them in 16 cities.

Viacom's cable networks include MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET.

The nasty public feud threatened the ability of Dish customers to watch popular CBS shows such as CSI and Survivor as well as the upcoming NCAA college basketball tournament.

The CBS move affected an estimated 1.6 million customers, in cities where Viacom owns the local CBS affiliate, while dropping the cable channels affected all Dish customers.

Major cable operators such as Adelphia Communications, Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable had moved in to get Dish customers, with attack ads, speedy installation and even offers of up to $400 to ditch the dish for cable.

Cable operators and EchoStar have a history of combativeness. Among the anti-Dish campaigns:

Put a fork in it. Adelphia, with 5.4 million subscribers, replaced its advertising around the country with quickie ads urging Dish customers to switch. One shows a dish with a giant fork through it, saying: "Put a fork in it. Dish network is done."

Timing is everything. Charter, the fourth-largest cable operator with 6.2 million subscribers, had been running 30-second TV spots showing funnyman Dan Aykroyd as the leader of Charter's "Dish Intervention Team." Aykroyd visits the homes of satellite customers in the spots, and urges them to switch with the slogan: "The dish is a disease. We're the cure."

Go for it. Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable operator with 10.9 million customers, was encouraging its local operators in 31 markets to launch "marketing efforts to track disaffected Dish customers," spokesman Mark Harrad said.

The dispute kicked into high gear on Dec. 31 when the contract between EchoStar and Viacom expired. The two sides agreed to a few temporary extensions before EchoStar filed an anti-trust complaint and won a temporary restraining order stopping Viacom from taking CBS off the air. That order expired Monday night.

The Viacom networks went dark on Dish at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday.


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