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Dish Network Gets Some Relief in ESPN Scrap

MANHATTAN (CN) - ESPN owes Dish Network $4.8 million - about $150 million less than what was demanded - for offering a competitor better rates, a federal jury ruled.

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The original case, filed in 2009, accused the Disney-owned EPSN and ESPN Classic of having entered into agreements Comcast, DirecTV, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and other Dish's competitors that contained "more favorable provisions than those ESPN had given to Dish."

ESPN allegedly refused Dish's demands for similar provisions and "thereby breached its agreement with Dish," according to the complaint, which sought nearly $153 million in damages.

On Thursday, a 10-member jury in Manhattan unanimously found ESPN liable for breaching its 2005 licensing agreement with Dish by allowing rivals to pay lower rates for the Spanish language sports network ESPN Deportes.

Jurors nevertheless rejected three out of the four breach-of-contract claims related to the better rates ESPN was gave competitors. They concluded that ESPN was not liable for letting Comcast distribute additional packaging tiers and subscriber packages without first notifying Dish and allowing it a chance to have the same deal.

The verdict was handed down after three weeks of trial and one day of jury deliberation. A clerk for the Southern District of New York entered the $4.8 million judgment, as well as the form for ESPN to appeal, on Friday.

Reuters reported that the Dish-ESPN distribution agreement is set to expire this year.

Stanton Dodge, Dish's general counsel, said in a statement the company would "remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that programmers honor their contractual commitments."

An ESPN spokesman said in statement: "we are gratified that the jury rejected all but one of Dish's claims and all but $4.8 million of the more than $153 million in damages they were seeking."

This is not the first legal entanglement between Dish and ESPN.

In 2011, a New York appeals court ordered Dish's parent company, EchoStar Satellite, to pay ESPN and several other Disney networks interest after making late payments under its programming licenses.

EchoStar had initiated that suit by claiming that Disney failed to provide high-definition versions of its programming, but the court found the underlying contracts too ambiguous to proceed.

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