Thursday, March 11, 2004

Viacom, Dish net nearing solution

Millions missing CBS, MTV, Nick

By Jonathan D. Salant
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Dish Network owner EchoStar and CBS parent Viacom expressed optimism Wednesday that they soon would settle a dispute that has left millions of satellite television customers without popular channels.

Martin D. Franks, executive vice president of CBS Television, told lawmakers at a hearing that he expected a solution in a "very timely fashion."

"I can give great assurance that we are making progress," Franks said.

David Moskowitz, EchoStar's senior vice president and general counsel, said after the hearing that he is hopeful "we'll reach an agreement very soon."

EchoStar Communications Corp. pulled the plug on CBS programs in more than a dozen cities Tuesday and also dropped Viacom Inc.'s cable channels - including MTV, Nickelodeon and BET - from its satellite network. As many as 9 million customers in all 50 states were affected.

WKRC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati, is not affected because it is not owned by CBS. But Dish subscribers locally are not receiving the Viacom-owned channels.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet urged both sides to settle before the NCAA men's college basketball tournament gets under way next week. CBS will broadcast the games.

"Let's cut to the chase and see if we can't come to an agreement, especially as March Madness begins," the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said such disputes benefit no one.

EchoStar says it is being required to carry several Viacom-owned cable channels in exchange for the right to also carry 18 CBS-owned stations in 16 markets.

The company also charged Viacom with seeking rate increases of up to 40 percent over the length of the contract.

Viacom officials disputed that, saying EchoStar was fighting over what amounted to 6 cents more a customer per month.

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