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Can a major pay TV service really just drop a somewhat major channel that’s currently running a widely anticipated, Emmy-winning series and get away with it?
Nearly four weeks after blacking out AMC Networks (s AMCX) channels — and popular adult drama Breaking Bad along with them– Dish Network (s DISH) has seemingly done just that. And this could have broad implications in the pay TV business, where programmers have typically held most of the leverage when negotiating new affiliate agreements.
Asked Friday if a revolt among Dish’s 14 million subscribers has inspired the company to work with AMC on a new affiliate agreement and restore its channels, a spokesman for the satellite company said there was no update to the impasse.
“Are you hearing anything,” he asked?
Strangely, I had to respond, “No.”
If the on-air and online campaign launched by AMC to steer Dish subscribers to other pay TV services is gaining traction, AMC sure isn’t beating its chest about it. An AMC representative on Friday told us grassroots subscriber revolts take time to gestate.
I also made an inquiry into the Dish sales department. A Dish rep told me there’s no timeline for AMC, WE TV and IFC returning to the service’s channel lineup any time soon. “Those channels are gone,” he told me.
Contrast that with the DirecTV/Viacom licensing dispute earlier this month — even as the corporate rhetoric raged on both sides, DirecTV sales reps kept assuring customers that a deal to restore channels including Nickelodeon and MTV was “imminent.”
Meanwhile, a perusal of the sales charts for Apple’s iTunes store shows that the most popular TV download is the most recent episode of Breaking Bad, titled “Madrigal.” This could be seen as lending credence to Dish’s negotiating position all along — that it has no reason to increase the program licensing fee it pays AMC, because its subscribers have so many other ways to access AMC shows. (New Breaking Bad episodes are also available through Amazon Instant Video, and Netflix has seasons 1-4 of the show exclusively.)
The AMC rep we spoke, however, said the network’s shows are always highly ranked on iTunes when they’re in season.
As for AMC’s linear TV ratings — and by extension, its ad sales — losing access to Dish’s nearly 14 million homes has undoubtedly rendered a hit. Last Sunday, ratings for the “Madrigal” episode were down 21 percent from the prior week’s fifth-season-premiere, with only 2.3 million viewers tuning into the initial run of Breaking Bad.
PR-wise, there appears to be little pressure on Dish. Summarizing the dispute for its online and mobile audience on July 3, ABC News lauded Dish for not saddling its subscribers with increased program licensing costs, titling its story, “Why Dish dropping AMC might be good for consumers.”
Asked whether he thinks AMC channels will ever return to Dish, Bernstein Research senior analyst Craig Moffett backed up AMC’s assertion that this impasse all ties into an unrelated legal dispute pitting Dish against AMC and its former parent company, Cablevision.
Also read: AMC – “Dish never even talked rates with us”
Set to go to trial in September, Dish finds itself short on leverage in the $2.5 billion dispute, which stems from its decision to drop now-defunct channel Voom HD in 2008.
When a settlement does occur, Moffett contends, the restoration of AMC’s channels will likely be part of the agreement.
In the meantime, Dish doesn’t appear to be breaking a sweat … and while no subscriber data is available beyond June 30, the day AMC channels were yanked, it appears to have found its leverage.