Dish Network has turned up the heat on the Weather Channel. In what could be a first in an operator-network carriage dispute, Dish has simply launched what could be a replacement channel.
As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, the Weather Channel expects to be off the air in more than 14 million Dish homes, since its contract expires. Dish debuted the Weather Cast network, which it said will better serve its customers by providing forecasting only -- without the documentary-style shows the Weather Channel runs.
In a statement, the Weather Channel said the parties have been negotiating for months about how much Dish would pay it for carriage rights, but Dish "has chosen to be the first distributor to drop [the channel] rather than pay the standard industry rates."
A Dish rep declined to say whether the launch of Weather Cast was a negotiating tactic.
The 24/7 Weather Cast is on Dish channel 213, while the Weather Channel has been on 214. Without a new deal or temporary agreement, Weather Cast would assume Weather Channel's spot on the dial.
It's unclear whether Weather Cast would continue if a new deal were reached.
Weather Channel is partly owned by NBC Universal. And the clash puts NBCU in a potentially uncomfortable situation, which Dish may be mindful of.
Comcast is looking for government approval to take control of NBCU. Legislators and regulators may not take kindly to a dispute that deprives millions of customers of a network for a period of time. The Weather Channel -- as long as it's on Dish -- is in about 100 million homes.
The Weather Channel handles its own affiliate negotiations and does not conduct them with NBCU, a rep said. The contretemps has erupted as the Weather Channel moves into the upfront ad-selling period.
The Dish rep said the company is developing a second weather channel with a regional focus to air alongside Weather Cast. Ads are running on Weather Cast.
Cable homes receive local weather updates on the Weather Channel. Because of different technology, however, satellite homes receive only a national feed, the Dish rep said. The Weather Cast addresses the issue with granular forecasting.
The Weather Channel runs documentary-type shows, such as "Storm Stories" and "Full Force Nature," in weekend prime time.
As the dispute unfolds, the Weather Channel has adopted a standard tactic in carriage battles -- urging customers to ditch Dish and switch to DirecTV or another provider.
Dish can play hardball in carriage disputes; in a notable 2005 standoff, it had Lifetime off its air for a lengthy period.