ESPN and the Dish Network are enemies this week.
The two media powerhouses are going head-to-head in a New York City courtroom as they argue about a carriage deal that the Dish Network says ESPN breached. Dish seeks more than $150 million in damages - a number it drew based on the other deals the Disney-owned sports company has made with pay-TV distributors DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
"In violation of this most-favored nation provision, ESPN provided more favorable terms to Dish's competitors and made the calculated decision not to offer those terms to Dish," said Barry Ostrager, a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett who is representing Dish Network in the trial.
Dish has been a bit of a legal magnet this past year. This is the third piece of litigation it has been involved with, including its ad-skipping DVR AutoHop system and a settled lawsuit about AMC's Voom HD Network.
This case has been pending in New York's court system for almost four years and has experts thinking it will open the door on information about how the TV industry does confidential contracts. Dish has to prove that the other companies got better treatment from ESPN in this litigation to succeed.
Experts believe jurors will hear and see evidence of this, as well as expert testimony that explains the gritty details of the industry.
"This is a complicated case," said an unindentified Dish lawyer. "These are not simple claims. There are 13 of them. They're based on 18 contracts; they're based on provisions that the parties have disputes over how to interpret language, not only in the DISH-ESPN agreement, but also the meaning of the terms in these other third-party contracts."
Diane Sullivan, the Weil, Gotshal & Manges lawyer who is serving ESPN in this trial, said that, "Dish got a fair deal; they want a better deal."