Just in time for the National Football League playoffs, Bill Newsome found a new television set under the Christmas tree.
“It’s a big one too, just beautiful,” Newsome said.
But like other rural Seattle Seahawks fans, Newsome will have to leave his new TV and the comfort of his home Sunday because of a contract dispute between a broadcasting company and a paid satellite network.
Unless the two companies agree to terms in the next two days, many rural Dish Network subscribers won’t be able to watch Sunday’s first-round playoff game between the Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. Urban Dish Network subscribers often can get an over-the-air signal using an antenna.
“We’ll probably drive to Spokane and watch it in a bar,” lamented Newsome, a Dish subscriber and retiree who lives 30 miles north of Newport.
The dispute centers around Spokane-based KAYU Fox 28, an affiliate of Northwest Broadcasting Inc., which since Nov. 26 has blocked signals to Dish because of a disagreement over its carriage fee – the cost paid by Dish for local Fox programs.
The blackout eliminates all of Fox’s programs for Dish subscribers across Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
“It’s pretty desperate up here,” Newsome said. “We’re heavy-duty sports fans and we’re going down to the wire.”
Dish and Northwest Broadcasting haven’t had a contract since August 2009. In a statement released Thursday afternoon Northwest Broadcasting said the two companies “have largely agreed on rates,” but the sticking point is whether a new contract will be retroactive to 2009.
Northwest went through a similar dispute with DirecTV earlier this year, reaching an agreement in late October.
Northwest Broadcasting, headquartered in Okemos, Mich., is seeking a programming fee that it says is “almost identical” to the amount other providers have agreed to pay, according to Jon Rand, vice president and chief operating officer.
“We have offered the Dish Network an agreement to air our stations that is very similar to their competitors,” Rand said. “Dish believes they should get a better deal than their competitors.”
But according to Dish, Northwest Broadcasting is seeking a “massive hike” in the carriage fee.
“We have offered to pay what our competitors pay for the exact same content; Northwest has rejected that fair and reasonable offer,” said Andrew LeCuyer, vice president of programming at Dish Network, which is based in Englewood, Colo., and serves more than 14 million satellite customers.
Rand counters that it’s not possible for Dish to know how much other providers have paid, because all Northwest Broadcasting agreements contain confidentiality clauses.
Despite the apparent wide difference, Rand said the two companies were trying to reach an agreement on Thursday.
Either way, Newsome doesn’t care. He has tried to contact the management at Dish. “I don’t know who to blame, but I pay Dish for the service, so I called them,” Newsome said.
“They all say the same thing: ‘It’s not our fault.’ ”