WISH-TV sues AT&T over fee negotiations, claims racial discrimination

DuJuan McCoy

Indianapolis-based Circle City Broadcasting, which owns WISH-TV Channel 8 and WNDY-TV Channel 23, has filed a lawsuit that accuses AT&T of racial discrimination as the two companies battle over retransmission fees.

The suit, filed last week in district court in Indianapolis, involves fees that Circle City is seeking for the retransmission of WISH and WNDY on AT&T’s Uverse and DirecTV cable and satellite services. Circle City filed a similar lawsuit against Dish TV earlier this year.

Cable and satellite television companies typically pay station owners a fee per household to retransmit stations on their cable or satellite services.

Circle City officials said they have been attempting to negotiate with AT&T since September. When an agreement couldn’t be reached, WISH and WNDY were pulled from AT&T-owned Uverse and DirecTV on Jan. 31.

In it’s lawsuit, WISH claims that while AT&T was paying the stations’ previous owner, Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., a retransmission fee to carry the stations on its services, it refuses to pay Circle City for the same retransmission.

Circe City is owned by DuJuan McCoy, who is Black.

“This case is a result of AT&T refusing to negotiate a contract with Circle City because the stations in question are now owned by a Black man, a Black man who has made a career out of advancing the cause of Blacks and other minorities in media ownership and leadership,” Circle City’s lawsuit says. “AT&T only deals fairly with historically more established broadcasters (namely, white-owned) when negotiating carriage agreements. It insists on maintaining its decades-long policies and practices of discriminating against the minority broadcaster, the broadcaster that never had the chance to become one of the historically more established broadcasters and thus remains perpetually ineligible to do business with AT&T. The effect has been to exclude minority broadcasters and deny them a seat at the table of American media ownership and management.”

Circle City is suing “for retransmission fees at a fair market rate, other lost revenue, actual and punitive damages, interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs resulting from the intentional misconduct exhibited by AT&T.” It did not specify a dollar amount.

“I am not only representing myself and my company, I am also representing all the other voices and people who want to follow in my footsteps,” McCoy told IBJ. “So advocating and fighting for equal and fair treatment is part of my purpose.”

AT&T vehemently denies the allegations in the lawsuit.

“These allegations are baseless and we will fight them in court,” AT&T said in a written statement sent to IBJ. “This is a straightforward negotiation over retransmission fees. Circle City sued as a negotiating tactic only after we declined its demands for compensation above and beyond what similar independent stations receive.”

McCoy said AT&T offered his company “zero” for the retransmission of its stations.

AT&T told IBJ the company applies “a non-discriminatory approach to these negotiations that ensures consistency and fairness while keeping fees low for our customers.”

AT&T added: “Contrary to these allegations, we have recently completed more extensive agreements with other minority-owned broadcasters, including one who recently paid Circle City’s owner $165 million to acquire his former stations.”

In a March lawsuit, Circle City accused Dish of racial discrimination as the two sides negotiated retransmission fees for WISH and WNDY. That case is still pending. The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters joined Circle City Broadcasting in that lawsuit.

McCoy said the Dish TV lawsuit is “in the discovery process.”

The two lawsuits could be heading for an intersection of sorts.

Earlier this month, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen told investment analysts and media members during Dish’s second quarter earnings call that a merger between DishTV and DirecTV is “inevitable.”

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7 thoughts on “WISH-TV sues AT&T over fee negotiations, claims racial discrimination

  1. WishTV and WNDY are pretty much irrelevant in the Indianapolis market. They don’t carry an affiliation with one of the big 4 networks and that is why he was able to purchase them at such a discount once they lost the CBS affiliation. I haven’t even noticed that they have been dropped from my lineup on UVerse honestly.

  2. I can’t get the price I want for my product, so it must be RACISM!! As Rhea points out above, There has been a material change in the product since the last contract. Why was this ignored in the article? Oh, and let Mr, McCoy know my price offer for network TV is also $0

  3. AT&T as a huge company is racist? Good luck proving that and I seriously doubt that’s the real issue here. The problem I have with racial discrimination or racists terms being overused is that it takes away from real racial discrimination and makes people like me more cynical and I don’t want to be like that. It should not be thrown around lightly as a catch all phrase for someone or something you don’t like. Having said that I don’t know the merits of this case, but I have a hard time accepting that AT&T as a company systematically favors white owners over minority ones. The problem here is that this will never make it to court. It will be settled which would bolster AT&T’s claim that this is a negotiating tactic. Mr. McCoy let your case go to court and don’t settle so we can see your convictions.

  4. I had similar thoughts to those of Rhea P. and Chuck W. above, plus one more question: When was the last time there was a program you “just had to” watch on either WISH or WNDY? Or even easier, when was the last time you just watched a program on one of the two channels? It is about the quality of your product Mr. McCoy. We will see what the courts say if you take this suit to the end. A long court battle will do nothing but weaken your bargaining position further, and cost you thousands in legal fees.

  5. It does seem a little fishy the station has a new (Black) owner, and suddenly ATT wants the content for free, when they paid for it for years and years. It might be a hard case to prove, but in the light of everything else, it would not surprise me.

    1. He says free, and ATT says they are offering fair rates. Why don’t they carry all the other local stations like channel 47.1 and all the other sub channels?

  6. This station and its sister station are non relevant and nothing like the past with the Natl affiliation and desire to provide unbiased local coverage…Now very liberal and plus we see now everything is Racist ….Sad Sad..I always thought it was about viewership and advertising $$$. Hope the new owner takes his racist BS to Portland , Seattle or Minneapolis !

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