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About 140,000 lose WBTV in Dish dispute

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Charlotte newscasts

    Here are the estimated number of viewers for key Charlotte newscasts during July sweeps and percentage rating change, year to year.

    6 AM
    WCNC 21,100Unchg.
    6 PM
    10 PM
    11 PM

    SOURCE: Nielsen. WBTV is Ch. 3; WSOC is Ch. 9; WCCB is Ch. 18; WCNC is Ch. 36; WJZY is Ch. 46; WAXN is Ch. 64.

This has been a summer of disruption on the local TV dial.

On Aug. 1, Dish satellite cut off WBTV (Channel 3) when it couldn’t reach an agreement with the station’s parent company, Raycom, over a new contract.

Raycom owns 53 stations in 36 cities, and the dispute covers all of them. In the Charlotte area, about 13 percent of viewers are served by Dish; that’s nearly 140,000 households.

Both Dish and WBTV have been running newspaper ads urging customers to call the other company to complain. And the phones have been ringing.

“We’re over 1,500 calls,” says Nick Simonette, WBTV’s general manager. He and his staff have been returning all of them, as well as emails, he says.

Simonette is not part of the negotiations – that’s between Raycom and Dish. It’s the latest in a series of standoffs (which usually get settled at the last minute) over so-called “carriage fees,” or what cable and satellite providers will pay per subscriber to carry the station’s signal. ESPN rakes the highest fee in the business, about $5 per subscriber, whether anyone in the household watches sports or not.

Stations argue that cable and satellite companies make money from their broadcasts and that they are entitled to ever-growing fees for what they provide. And providers argue that they have to keep a lid on costs that must be passed along to subscribers.

It’s one of those fights where both parties are right. Somewhere in the middle is a number that both sides can live with, but they’ve taken their time finding it.

Simonette says Dish has been reluctant to negotiate, and all Raycom is asking from them is what it gets from other carriers. Dish says that Raycom is asking too much.

“Raycom has publicly told its viewers that they are willing to give Dish the same deal as other providers,” says Sruta Vootukuru, Dish’s programming director. “All we’re asking is for Raycom to put that on paper, and we’re ready to sign the deal now.”

Simonette says the dispute must be affecting WBTV’s ratings but isn’t sure yet by how much.

Meanwhile, a separate dispute between Time Warner Cable and CBS has blacked out Showtime in Charlotte. Same thing – it’s over money. CBS owns the cable channel that airs “Homeland,” which is filmed in Charlotte. Both sides have dug in, but the dispute will likely be settled by the time “Homeland” returns for its third season on Sept. 29.

Summer is a good time to have these kinds of quarrels. Television usage drops during the summer months when there’s more to do and reruns are in fashion. You can assume that in the WBTV-Dish dispute, both sides will find a solution before the NFL returns in September.

In other news, WAXN (Channel 64) has dethroned WCCB (Channel 18) as the news leader at 10 p.m. I can remember this happening only one other time in the past decade.

WCCB lost its Fox programming to WJZY (Channel 46) in July. WCCB picked up the CW network, which doesn’t have the same draw as Fox. WCCB’s morning and 10 p.m. newscasts have sagged to third place since the switch.

Media Movers

Radio One brings Eddie Owens back to the Charlotte airwaves. Owens started Monday on the afternoon drive shift at WOSF-FM (“Old School” 105.3). Owens started in the early ’90s on WPEG-FM (“Power” 97.9), moving 11 years later to WQNC-FM (“Q” 92.7). ... Darla Thomas exits as program director and afternoon host of WLKO-FM (“Lake” 102.9). She’d joined the Clear Channel cluster in Charlotte in 2010. WKKT-FM (“Kat” 96.9) music director Tyler Reese will be interim program director. ...

Don Griffin, who has done consumer reporting for WSOC (Channel 9) for three decades, plans to sign off Sept. 27. Time to retire, he says. Channel 9 is planning a weeklong tribute to his work and the people he’s helped. ...

Erica Parkerson, former morning co-host on WRCM-FM (“New Life” 91.9), joins the inspiration radio station “Spirit FM” in Lynchburg, Va., on its morning show. ... WBTV’s Steve Crump gets two awards from the National Association of Black Journalists for short- and long-form reports. ... WBTV reporter Dedrick Russell was elected NABJ vice president for broadcast for the next two years.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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