Univision's deal to stream Liga MX games on Facebook has drawn a lawsuit from Dish.

When is a TV network broadcasting games for free on Facebook a negative? When you’re a cable or satellite provider who wants people to pay you to watch the network on TV, apparently. Dish filed a sealed lawsuit against Univision earlier this month, and Cablefax has now obtained a redacted copy of it, which indicates that they’re suing over Univision’s English-language Facebook broadcasts of Liga MX action (which they show on their Univision Deportes TV channel in Spanish). Here are the key details from Amy Maclean’s piece at Cablefax:

DISH filed its lawsuit against Univision earlier this month under seal, but a heavily redacted version of the complaint obtained by Cablefax shows that DISH believes its affiliate agreement with Univision expressly prohibits the programmer from “allowing linear services to be distributed for free via the Internet or a wireless cellular provider.”

A key difference between the Facebook Live broadcasts and what’s on linear network Univision Deportes is that the social media streams are in English. DISH contends that they are essentially the same broadcasts, with Univision only using a different audio path and a switcher that replicates Spanish-language graphics so they appear in English. DISH even quoted from an interview with Univision Deportes svp Olek Loewenstein in which he talks about the productions being created in the same control room and how there are similar components.

This is a case worth watching as programmers are increasingly striking more deals with Facebook, Twitter and the like. This dispute delves into what constitutes different programming across platforms. “It has undermined the value of DISH’s licensing and distribution deal with the Univision Entities, by making covered content available for free through a third-party distributor. And it has and will undoubtedly cost DISH profits and the goodwill of its subscribers and potential subscribers, who are less likely to purchase DISH services or the necessary subscriptions to access its Liga MX content, since games can be viewed for free on the Internet or through a wireless cellular provider,” DISH said in its complaint.

That’s not the only part of the complaint; for example, it also cites Univision failing to deliver promised content. However,  the specifics there are redacted, and the argument about these Facebook streams seems to be the main issue here. And it’s also interesting that Dish is looking not just for money, but also “a permanent injunction preventing Univision from allowing its linear service and any component to be distributed live via Facebook Live or other free Internet and wireless services.”

This could perhaps have impacts beyond Dish and beyond Liga MX. Dish is just one of many pay-TV providers that carries Univision Deportes, and while they’re the only one in this lawsuit, others might have similar complaints (or choose to weigh in themselves later if this goes well for Dish). And Liga MX is not the only product Univision’s streaming via Facebook; they’re also streaming 22 MLS games that they broadcast linearly in Spanish in English on Facebook this season, so that would seemingly cause some similar complaints.

But the larger issue here may be if this winds up setting a precedent for other broadcasters about what programming they can and can’t simulcast on Facebook (or Twitter, or Amazon, or other internet services). There have been tons of tech companies striking deals to simulcast others’ programming, but the tech companies generally aren’t creating their own broadcasts, which would be much more expensive. That’s a big part of why many don’t expect tech companies to spend huge amounts of money on getting their own exclusive live sports rights; it’s easier to pay a smaller fee to simulcast someone else’s broadcast. A victory for Dish here might be a big blow for those simulcast deals, though, and that could have big repercussions throughout the sports landscape.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.