(Corrects headline to say $4.9 million, not billion)
By Nate Raymond and Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK Feb 28 A federal jury on Thursday
found sports programmer ESPN liable for only one
breach-of-contract claim made by Dish Network Corp and
awarded Dish $4.86 million, a mere fraction of the $152 million
it had sought.
In a unanimous ruling, the 10-member jury in Manhattan found
ESPN liable for breaching a 2005 licensing agreement by allowing
rivals to pay lower rates for ESPN Deportes, a Spanish language
channel, without extending the same offer to Dish.
But the jury rejected most of Dish's central claims that
ESPN, an affiliate of Walt Disney Co, had breached its
contract by giving better deals to rival distributors.
The award comes amid growing friction between distributors
and program makers throughout the entertainment industry.
Filed in 2009, the lawsuit centered on the terms of
distribution agreements that ESPN had negotiated with Dish and
its competitors for channels including ESPN Classic, which shows
re-runs of older sports events, and ESPN Deportes.
In its rejection of some of Dish's claims, the jury said
ESPN was not liable for letting Comcast Corp in 2006
distribute additional packaging tiers and subscriber packages
without first notifying Dish and allowing it a chance to have
the same deal. Dish said this cost it $78.9 million.
The trial may impact future negotiations between the two
companies, whose distribution agreement is set to expire this
Dish, controlled by billionaire founder Charlie Ergen, has
often used lawsuits to gain leverage in these types of
negotiations, analysts said.
Stanton Dodge, Dish's general counsel, in a statement said
the company would "remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that
programmers honor their contractual commitments."
ESPN representatives did not immediately respond to requests
Dish shares closed down 7 cents at $34.90 on late afternoon
trading on the NASDAQ, while Disney shares were up 37 cents at
$54.85 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is Dish Network LLC v. ESPN Inc., et al., U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, 09-06875.
(Reporting By Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Gary Hill
and Leslie Adler)