KRCG announces Rod Smith return amid DISH customer protests

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 | 8:40 p.m. CDT; updated 9:56 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 1, 2008

COLUMBIA — The protesters standing along Providence Road demanded a solution to a local hostage crisis. The hostages in question, their signs noted, were the viewers of Columbia and Jefferson City’s CBS affiliate, KRCG/Channel 13.

About a dozen customers of satellite television provider DISH Network, which has an estimated 40,000 subscribers in the Columbia and Jefferson City areas, picketed with signs reading “Stop holding KRCG viewers hostage” and other slogans outside KRCG/Channel 13’s office on Wednesday morning. The demonstration, which was organized by DISH Network, was in response to KRCG being pulled from DISH Network’s service starting July 2, after the station demanded an increase in compensation from the provider.

“We take this seriously, and we want the best for our customers,” DISH Network regional marketing manager Kevin Reese said. “So we hope they notice that we’re out here today, and we’re here to put up a fight for our customers here in Columbia.”

One strategy DISH has used to gain support from customers is calling attention to KRCG’s firing of popular sports anchor Rod Smith. “First Rod, now CBS, what’s next?” one protester’s sign read.

“Rod was fired recently, so it just seems to be the next thing in line that KRCG is taking away from their customers,” Reese said.

KRCG, however, issued a news release Wednesday afternoon announcing Smith’s return.

Only two protesters were representatives of DISH; the rest were customers. Linn residents Vicki and Scott Johnson, who have been DISH customers for more than a decade, were among them.

“When we first started, we were able to get New York and L.A. (CBS affiliates), and that was awesome,” Scott Johnson said. “And now we can’t because these guys wanted money here, so that’s why we couldn’t get it from somewhere else.”

Several protesters, including the Johnsons, brought young children and other family members along.

“We’re a family who watches DISH, and we spend a lot of money on DISH and local channels every month, and that’s our entertainment,” Vicki Johnson said. “Gas is too expensive to be going out, so now it’s staying in and watching TV. And now, they’re wanting to raise the rates on that.”

DISH users can still access KRCG free with an antenna. DISH spokeswoman Francie Bauer said the provider is not allowed to broadcast other CBS affiliates to replace KRCG programming because of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

KRCG Vice President and general manager Jon Van Ness said he’s fielded many complaints.

“We have been trying to answer those personally,” Van Ness said. “I think the numbers are well into the hundreds, and I have made hundreds of phone calls to people and spent time talking to them.”

The companies have released conflicting statements about how much of an increase KRCG is seeking in the per-subscriber fee it receives from DISH. DISH has consistently stated KRCG and its parent company, Barrington Broadcasting, have demanded a 130 percent increase in compensation; Van Ness said that’s wrong.

“When looked at a percentage basis, our request is not 130 percent,” he said. “It is what might be viewed as a significant percentage increase, but keep in mind when you’re dealing with such small numbers that percentages can be misleading.”

Compensation fees per subscriber generally are small for national channels. For example, DISH in 2006 paid CNN 44 cents per subscriber and ESPN $2.91, according to KRCG’s Web site. DISH customers pay a $5 monthly fee to receive local programming.

Van Ness said DISH and KRCG are negotiating.

“It’s not a benefit to KRCG to have 40,000 households without our signal,” Van Ness said. “We’ve been contacted by very many providers, alternatives to DISH Network. But in an effort to facilitate these negotiations, hopeful that there is a resolution, we haven’t acted on that. But the time is coming where we may have to change our strategy.”

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