In breakup parlance, Dish Network has already sold AMC’s belongings and rented out its room.
With a carriage renewal agreement between the satellite TV service and the cable programmer nowhere near in sight, Dish announced Friday that it’s giving AMC’s advantageous channel positions away to Mark Cuban’s HDNet outlets.
This will begin late Saturday night, when AMC Networks channels AMC, WE TV and IFC are slated to be removed from the channel guides of Dish’s nearly 14 million subscribers.
AMC is also facing the prospect of being pulled off of AT&T’s U-Verse service at the same time if a new carriage deal with the telco service provider can’t be hammered out. U-Verse touts around 4 million subscribers.
According to a Dish statement, HDNet Movies will take over the very visible 130 position on the Dish grid, moving down from the nether reaches of channel 383.
Meanwhile, HDNet — which is scheduled next week to morph into entertainment and music channel AXS TV through a joint venture with Cuban, Ryan Seacrest and live-events company AEG — will take over IFC’s 131 slot, moving up from channel 362.
Comcast/NBCUniversal-owned Style will assume channel 128, taking over WE TV’s position.
Asked how the enhanced positioning would benefit his channels, Cuban dryly stated in an email to paidContent that, “It certainly helps.”
He also noted another factor that helped his channels seize the opportunity — his maverick public support for Dish’s Hopper digital video recorder and its controversial new feature that automatically skips broadcast-network commercials.
Dish, meanwhile, added some acerbic punctuation to its announcement, noting that it’s replacing the AMC channels “with what the company views is stronger entertainment and movie content.”
Asked for comment Friday, an AMC representative referred paidContent to a statement provided a day earlier.
AMC is reportedly looking to increase its current affiliate rate to around 75 cents from about 40 cents per subscriber.
“A significant portion of any pay-TV bill goes to fees for content providers like AMC Networks,” said Dish senior VP of programming Dave Shull. “AMC Networks requires us to carry low-rated channels like IFC and WE to access a few popular AMC shows. The math is simple: it’s not a good value for our customers.”
Dish’s statement also continued to hammer home the company’s earlier-stated assertion that AMC has “devalued” its content by licensing to over-the-top services like Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.
On Thursday, an AMC representative disagreed strongly with paidContent’s assertion that the network was particularly aggressive in regard to licensing content for streaming.
With full archival seasons for all of AMC’s most popular original series currently available on Netflix, we’ll stand by that position. Qualitatively speaking, AMC competes in an elite class of original drama-series production, with its programming most often compared to the critically acclaimed shows found on premium channels like HBO and Showtime. And you don’t see a lot of HBO and Showtime series on Netflix.
But there’s also plenty of evidence that suggests that subscription video-on-demand access has actually helped AMC’s ratings — and by extension, Dish’s subscriber retention.
Netflix, for example, believes “catch-up” viewing for earlier seasons of Mad Men on its service contributed about 1 million new viewers to AMC’s season 5 premiere of that show over the spring.
AMC also took exception of our assertion that the appeal of the channel’s shows is somewhat “niche.” With October’s second-season premiere of The Walking Dead yielding 11 million viewers for the night, that stance should definitely be softened. However, other AMC shows, like Mad Men, tend to have a cultural impact that far outstrips their actual audience size.
On Saturday, the channel that arguably has the three most critically acclaimed shows on television — I’m also including Breaking Bad with Mad Men and The Walking Dead — could lose access to 18 million pay TV homes.
For its part, AT&T has said nothing publicly about over-the-top services being an issue, and its impasse with AMC seems to be somewhat straightforward and about money. Rhetoric, to this point, hasn’t gotten out of hand.
Dish, however, doesn’t mention in any of its rather rhetorical statements that it’s currently being sued by AMC for $2.5 billion over its decision to stop carrying the channels of defunct HD service Vroom Networks in 2008.
How much, if any, is that litigation factoring into Dish’s impasse with AMC? Tough to say.
But with the anticipated season 5 launch of Breaking Bad set for July 15, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the blackout will have on Dish’s subscriber count over the next several months.