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Charlotte-area WBTV programming goes dark for Dish customers

Customers of Dish TV lost access to WBTV programming early Thursday in a dispute over a new contract, according to Dish Network officials.

A three-year contract between Dish and the 36 stations owned by WBTV’s parent company, Montgomery, Ala.-based Raycom Media, ended early Thursday.

“They took us down around 1:49 a.m. our time, Nick Simonette, WBTV’s vice president and general manager, said Thursday afternoon.

Hours earlier, Raycom had offered Dish an extension, which was refused, Simonette said.

The two sides are battling over contract fees. Simonette has said market conditions have changed since the start of the contract and that Raycom asked for “a nominal increase” of Dish and other carriers.

“Dish has offered to pay Raycom the same rates as our primary competitors, yet Raycom has stalled negotiations, refusing to accept that fair offer,” Sruta Vootukuru, Dish’s director of programming, said in a statement.

Simonette said he fielded more than 100 calls from viewers asking about their missing programming.

“In the eleventh hour, usually you come to an agreement. I thought that would be the case here,” Simonette said.

“They’re all asking, ‘When is it coming back?’ … Honest to God, I just don’t know.”

The Colorado-based satellite TV company said Raycom Media blocked access for Dish customers to Raycom stations across the country. Raycom operates TV stations in 36 markets. Among those stations are Charlotte’s WBTV, Columbia’s WIS, Myrtle Beach’s WMBF, Wilmington’s WECT, and Charleston’s WCSC.

“We understand this is frustrating for Dish Network customers, we share their frustration, and we are committed to doing everything we can to resolve the issue,” Raycom Media President and CEO Paul McTear said in a statement on the company website.

Simonette said about 13 percent of WBTV’s viewers across its 22-county market are Dish subscribers. John Hall, with Dish corporate communications, said the company doesn’t share subscriber information for competitive reasons. Dish has about 14 million subscribers nationwide.

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