WSAV signal goes dark for Lowcountry Dish subscribers

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 1, 2013 


The final performance on Monday night's episode of "The Voice" might have been a swan song for Lowcountry Dish Network subscribers.

WSAV's signal went dark at midnight Monday as Media General, the station's parent company, and Dish Network failed to sign a new contract.

Negotiations continued Tuesday evening, but Dish Network spokeswoman Danielle Johnson said she could not say when a deal might be reached.

WSAV will not be carried by the satellite provider until an agreement is in place, according to a news release Tuesday from the Savannah-based station. By law, Dish cannot carry WSAV on its for-profit satellite system until the companies sign a contract, the release said.

"WSAV has been an integral part of the Savannah (and Hilton Head) community for 56 years, and that is our No. 1 priority," said station general manager Deb Thompson. "We understand that having a blank screen instead of their favorite programming is frustrating for Dish customers, and it's frustrating for us, as well."

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

Until a deal is reached, Lowcountry Dish customers could miss out on popular NBC shows like "The Voice," "Sunday Night Football" and "Wheel of Fortune," and WSAV's evening newscasts at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Most viewers, however, can still receive the station's signal for free by using a basic over-the-air antenna.

Across the country, Dish's battles with local stations have been an ongoing problem, WSAV news director Kevin Brennan said.

In the past three years, the Colorado-based satellite TV provider has blacked out local broadcast stations 30 times, including WTOC in Savannah, he said.

"I actually didn't think it would come to this," he said. "We've had agreements with 10 other cable providers. But then again, Dish seems to have a reputation."

The previous deal between Dish and Media General was to expire June 30. The companies extended that for 90 days but still failed to come to terms.

"We've attempted to reach a fair agreement via many avenues, but Media General remains immovable in its demands," said Sruta Vootukuru, DISH director of programming. "They declined a contract extension, an offer from Dish to pay our competitors' rates, and have now refused our willingness to match rates paid to other area broadcasters. Media General is overreaching by trying to force Dish customers to pay more than their neighbors."

So far, it's unclear how many Dish customers will be affected by the WSAV blackout. On Sept. 25, Thompson said the network does not give out viewer numbers. Johnson, the Dish Network spokeswoman, said the company does not release the locations of subscribers, other than it has 14 million in the U.S.

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.

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