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Dish says it has no deal with station

January 04, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

Former Antietam Cable customers in Washington County who switched to Dish Network to watch NBC25 might be in for a disappointment.

Neither the station nor its parent company, Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., have any agreements in place with Dish Network to provide such coverage, Dish Network spokesman Mark Cicero said Tuesday.

"That's the stance from Dish Network. We are exploring the possibility of adding WHAG in the future, but have no more comments to make at this time," Cicero said.

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Cicero said Dish Network has an agreement with Nexstar to carry some of Nexstar's stations originating out of Washington, D.C., including NBC affiliate WRC4.

Nexstar Chief Operating Officer Duane Lammers and NBC25 Vice President and General Manager Hugh J. Breslin III disputed that, but Cicero said the agreement does not include NBC25, which goes by the call letters of WHAG-TV. He did not rule out the possibility of a future agreement that would allow Dish Network viewers to watch NBC25.

Nexstar and Antietam Cable began negotiations in late October on a new agreement allowing Antietam Cable to continue carrying NBC25 programming beyond the Dec. 31 expiration of the existing agreement. Federal regulations require cable companies to enter into formal agreements, which are renegotiated periodically, in order to retain the right to carry local broadcast programs.

Antietam Cable is owned by Schurz Communications Inc. of South Bend, Ind., the parent company of The Herald-Mail Co..

The sides were at odds over a provision Nexstar sought in the agreement requiring Antietam Cable to pay a monthly fee of 30 cents for each of its 38,700 subscribers, or about $139,320 annually, according to previously published information. Both sides waged advertising campaigns leading up to the Dec. 31 deadline, beyond which Antietam Cable would not have been permitted to carry NBC25 without a new agreement. As part of that effort, NBC25 urged its viewers to switch to Dish Network, which it said would begin carrying the station this year.

Antietam Cable and Nexstar reached a tentative agreement Dec. 28. The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

Hagerstown resident Lawrence Ambrose said he switched to Dish Network on Dec. 3 under the premise NBC25 would be carried on Dish Network. While he said he did not switch to Dish Network simply for NBC25, he said he feels he was mislead by the station's assertions it would be carried on Dish Network.

"Originally, their ads said they were going to be dropped, or maybe they were going to be dropped by Antietam Cable, and they were going to dish, so I went to dish," Ambrose said. "Had I known I was not going to be able to get the local station, I would not have switched."

Lammers said Nexstar has an agreement with Dish Network, which allows area subscribers to watch other local broadcast stations from the Washington, D.C., area, and the agreement covers NBC25. He said he has been assured by Dish Network the company will offer the station as part of its local programming package once it has launched its Echostar X satellite.

Dish Network has a system of nine other satellites which services its national programming network. It planned to launch the 10th by the end of 2005, but that satellite, according to company information, is designed "to act as an in-orbit spare." The satellite has not yet been launched.

Breslin said he is certain Dish Network will eventually carry NBC25, and that it is only a question of when. He said some viewers might have thought Dish Network would begin carrying the station Jan. 1 because that was when Nexstar's former agreement with Antietam Cable expired. He added the station has been giving its viewers gift certificates redeemable for an indoor, UHF antenna so they will be able to watch NBC25 until the station is carried by Dish Network.

Marty Adams, owner of Rival Communications, a Williamsport company that distributes Dish Network, said he has been telling his customers Nexstar and Dish Network are in negotiations but do not have an agreement concerning NBC25. He said his company does about 20 Dish Network and satellite installations daily.

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