Ergen Says Dish-Disney Relationship Strained as Talks Continue

Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen said his company’s relationship with Walt Disney Co. “has not been our best” as the two sides try to hammer out a renewal of their contract, more than a month after the last one expired.

While Ergen is “cautiously optimistic” that the satellite-TV provider will be able to reach an agreement with Disney, nothing is final yet, he said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

“We have a great relationship with most providers -- Disney has not been our best,” he said. “Our focus really is to go out and make that our best relationship going forward.”

Dish’s contract with Disney, which allows the satellite company to air networks such as ABC, ESPN and the Disney Channel on its service, expired Sept. 30. The talks got snagged in part because of Dish’s ad-skipping technology, which has raised hackles among broadcasters, as well as terms for two new Disney cable channels, people familiar with the matter have said.

At the time, the two companies decided to keep talking to resolve the dispute, preventing a blackout of Disney programming on Dish. A permanent deal is still not in place more than month after the deadline.

Kevin Brockman, a spokesman for Burbank, California-based Disney, declined to comment.

The companies also have a history of lawsuits. In March, Englewood, Colorado-based Dish lost three of four claims against ESPN over its programming contract, winning a jury award of $4.85 million of the $153 million sought.

The latest remarks strike a different tone than Ergen took three months ago, when he said on a conference call that Disney had been “a good partner for us for a long period of time.”

Ergen said yesterday that the discussions will take “as long as it takes to get a deal that’s fair for Disney, fair for our consumers.”

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