WSAV in jeopardy for area Dish Network subscribers

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 22, 2013 

A fee dispute between TV conglomerates could block Dish Network subscribers in the Lowcountry from receiving Savannah NBC-affiliate WSAV, starting Oct. 1.

WSAV parent company Media General hasn't yet reached a deal with Dish Network that would allow the satellite-TV provider to continue to broadcast Media General's network-affiliated stations.

Media General owns affiliates in 18 metropolitan areas, including Charleston, Greenville-Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach-Florence. The Savannah station airs on Channel 3.

If no deal is reached by Sept. 30, Lowcountry Dish Network customers would miss out on popular NBC shows like "The Voice," "Sunday Night Football" and "Wheel of Fortune," as well as WSAV's evening newscasts at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

On Tuesday, a Dish Network statement said Media General rejected a short-term deal that would have ended the dispute. The deal would have granted Dish Network transmission rights until Media General closes its merger deal with Young Broadcasting, according to a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

"We have a long-term agreement with Young, meaning customers would not lose any programming," Sruta Vootukuru, director of programming for Dish Network, said in a statement. "The only reason for Media General to reject that offer is to squeeze consumers for more money, to the tune of five times what Dish currently pays."

Last week, several general managers of Media General television stations accused Dish of not offering a fair price to carry their stations, according to a Media General news release.

Deb Thompson, WSAV's general manager, said in a statement that the stations are asking for a small portion of Dish's subscription fees.

"It helps us as a station pay for the reporters, photographers, anchors and producers," Thompson said.

So far, it's unclear how many Dish customers would be affected.

On Wednesday, Thompson said the station does not give out viewer numbers.

Danielle Johnson, a Dish Network spokeswoman, said the company does not release the locations of subscribers, other than it has 14 million in the U.S.

Should Dish Network customers lose WSAV, the NBC-affiliate said most viewers could receive the station for free by using a basic over-the-air antenna.

Savannah was the 92nd-largest TV market in the U.S. in 2012, according to Nielsen ratings. Nearly 350,000 households, including those in Beaufort and Jasper counties, make up the market.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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