The staring contest between AMC Networks (which owns AMC, IFC, WeTV and Sundance) and AT&T ended on Sunday afternoon with a brief announcement from AMC that it had reached a long-term carriage agreement with the MSO, ensuring that its channels would be distributed across the AT&T's U-Verse service.
Given that the cable conglomerate's agreement with Dish Network expired on Saturday evening, the company felt free to take a swipe at the increasingly pugnacious satellite provider too.
"It's telling that AMC Networks has historically been able to negotiate fair agreements with television providers that reflect the value of our content," the network said in an unsigned statement. "Yet Dish, which dropped our networks as of July 1, never engaged with us in any rate discussions. Dish customers have lost some of their favorite shows because of an unrelated lawsuit that has nothing at all to do with our programming, our ratings or our rates."
For the uninitiated: Carriage negotiations between Dish and AMC broke down last month when Dish banished the company's flagship network to channel 9069 and descended into a series of nasty dueling press releases. AMC accused Dish of stonewalling during negotiations in retaliation for a lawsuit filed by AMC subsidiary Voom HD, which is suing the MSO for breach of contract to the tune of $2.5 million. Dish announced its plans to drop AMC within days of a judge's decision to let the Voom HD case go to trial.
Dish contends that the face-off is over "bundling." Like every cable conglomerate, AMC sells its smaller networks in a package with its flagship property so that it can guarantee carriage for properties that are still finding their feet. "AMC Networks requires us to carry low-rated channels like IFC and We to access a few popular AMC shows," said Dish svp Dave Shull. Bundling isn't a popular practice with MSOs, but it's a common one.
Lest anybody who doesn't read the trades go uninformed, AMC is making sure everybody gets a good, long look at the spat between the two companies. Outdoor ads for the July 15 premiere of multi-Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad, which pictures protagonist Walter White in a warehouse amid stacks of cash, all feature a little tag saying, "AVAILABLE ON CABLE AND SATELLITE—NOT ON Dish."
AMC is in a good bargaining position at the moment. Ratings for Mad Men have finally caught up with the show's glowing critical reviews; Breaking Bad wins Emmy after Emmy; and its horror series The Walking Dead smashed ratings records in its second season—some of which were set during its first. Given the company's recent history of playing hardball, it's likely that AMC is getting a significant increase in subscriber fees from AT&T. During negotiations, AT&T called AMC's asking price "excessive"—nearly double the cost of a similar competitor.
So AMC has one victory under its belt, but Dish's customer base is 14 million households strong, and that's nothing to sneeze at, no matter how popular you are. AMC spent most of June banished to channel 9069 and its average total viewership for the month (year over year) plummeted 21 percent; expect that to get worse next month when it's not being carried at all. AMC has aggressively leveraged its content on VOD platforms like Netflix when competitors have frozen out the streaming video service; now the company has acrimoniously split with a major distributor. But it's not like the conflict improves Dish's image, either; the company's much-reviled "auto hop" feature allows viewers to skip ads completely and is the subject of yet more litigation.