Fed up, Fox-seekers go DISH

January 26, 2011 

RICHLAND — Lou Therson of Richland has been a loyal DirecTV customer since moving to the area about four years ago.

But that changed after he stopped receiving the local Fox affiliate Dec. 31 due to a dispute between DirecTV and Spokane-based Northwest Broadcasting, which owns that affiliate, KFFX Fox 11.

“I liked my Two and a Half Men and the other sitcoms,” Therson, 75, said of the reruns he had been watching on Fox. “I also missed my football games.”

As a result, he switched to DISH Network as his satellite provider last week.

Therson is not alone, said Kyle Dumas, owner of Pasco-based Dish Direct Satellite LLC.

“I’ve been slammed,” Dumas said of the number of requests he has had from people wanting to switch to DISH from DirecTV. “I’ve been pulling 14-hour days.”

He said he typically hooks up about 20 to 30 customers to DISH a month. By last week, he already had installed 49 or 50 DISH systems in January.

Mike Hillman, co-owner of Columbia Basin Satellite in Kennewick, has seen a similar trend since Northwest Broadcasting pulled its Fox programming from DirecTV.

Although he declined to give specific numbers, he said his company has had a 400 percent increase in Dish installations this month compared with December.

On the other hand, the number of DirecTV installations has plummeted by 200 percent, Hillman said.

Requests to switch to the DISH Network seem to have peaked as the month wore on, “when (DirecTV customers) realized they couldn’t watch the Super Bowl game,” which will be carried by Fox this year, he said.

Dumas said DirecTV customers have told him they made the switch so they can catch the new season of the reality show, American Idol.

Others have told him they originally subscribed to California-based DirecTV for its sports programming.

But when Fox went dark, so did DirecTV’s local airing of Seattle Seahawks and the NFL playoff games.

“When you take that away from the sports person, that’s a big deal,” Dumas said.

Dumas has offered unhappy DirecTV customers a simpler solution to the issue. He has installed antennas on the roofs of about 10 customers to help them pick up the local Fox broadcast signal.

For now, the satellite provider and Northwest Broadcasting seem no closer to resolving their dispute, based on phone interviews with representatives of both companies.

Jon Rand, vice president and chief operating officer of Northwest Broadcasting, said the recently expired contract was almost 10 years old.

“DirecTV had a good deal for a long time,” Rand said.

In the new contract, Northwest Broadcasting is asking for a rate that reflects today’s market, he added.

It also is asking for what officials see as a comparable rate to what most DirecTV customers pay to receive other cable shows such as Discovery, CNN, MTV and TBS. He said that rate is 75 cents to $1 per month per subscriber.

Rand said that rate is in line with what DirecTV pays other Fox affiliates around the country.

Dan Hartman, a senior vice president of DirecTV, said Northwest Broadcasting asked for a 600 percent rate increase in its new contract.

“We’ve never seen an increase like that,” he added, although he declined to say what that equates to in dollars.

He also said that since mid-November, DirecTV has negotiated contracts with eight station groups that represent 92 stations.

Hartman said DirecTV has offered to pay Northwest Broadcasting a rate that’s “well above market” rates.

He said it makes no sense for Northwest Broadcasting officials to compare the value of their programming to the value of cable channels such as Discovery.

DirecTV has asked Northwest Broadcasting to allow an independent arbitrator to settle the dispute, he said, and would also like Northwest Broadcasting to return its Fox programming to DirecTV as negotiations or arbitration continues.

In an e-mail, Rand wrote Northwest Broadcasting is not aware of any situation when arbitration has successfully settled such disputes.

TV viewers caught in the middle, such as Richland’s Therson, have a simpler view of the negotiations.

“I can roll with the punches,” he said, “but when you get used to things, it’s like taking candy away from a baby.

“I just think, ‘Where’s my Channel 11?’ ”

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