The brawl between AMC and Dish Network continues to escalate more than a month after the satellite provider dropped AMC and its subsidiaries WE, IFC and Sundance from its lineup.
The debate hinges on Dish's motivations. AMC contends that Dish executives blacked out the channels to gain leverage in a $2.5 billion lawsuit that AMC filed against the satellite company in 2008, after Dish backed out of a contract to carry AMC affiliate Voom HD's suite of channels in 2008. AMC COO Ed Carroll told The Huffington Post that pre-trial motions in the case went badly for Dish, prompting the company to pressure AMC to drop the suit or accept a settlement significantly smaller than $2.5 billion.
But Dish representatives said the company chose to stop airing the channels because AMC Networks asked for a fee much higher than its relatively small viewership warrants.
"The channels AMC Networks forces us to deliver -- WE, IFC and AMC -- do not give our customers the best content at the best value. We have permanently removed them from the DISH line up as of June 30," Dish Communications Officer John Hall told The Huffington Post in an email.
Dish executives refused to negotiate or discuss their contract with AMC Networks in the months leading up to the blackout, said Carroll, adding that he had never in his time at AMC seen a TV provider act that way. To him, the move makes sense only if Dish intended to use its carriage of AMC channels as a legal bargaining chip.
"I've been in this job a long, long time. I've been a party to our renewal negotiations with pretty much everyone: Time Warner, Comcast, DirectTV," he told The Huffington Post. "They all have a pretty regular rhythm to them. But in this case, Dish was very clear that they didn't want to negotiate, because it was all about the lawsuit."
The suit will go to trial Sept. 18 if AMC does not settle before then. Carroll said that he was all but certain Dish would not bring back the AMC channels before the end of the current block of "Breaking Bad" episodes. He wasn't even sure that service would be restored in time for the Oct. 14 season premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead," the most popular drama on basic cable.
"Fans of 'The Walking Dead', if they don't want to miss an episode, should explore other service provider options," Carroll said.
To that end, AMC has launched a multi-pronged advertising campaign over the past month to urge Dish subscribers to cancel their subscriptions.
The company launched its latest volley, the "Hey Dish, Where's My AMC?" promotion, on Monday. The promotion calls on Dish subscribers to make videos enumerating all the things they miss about the network's TV shows. The maker of the video that AMC judges to be the best will be awarded $4,000 in cash, a Canon camera and a private meeting with AMC executives. The network will also give $1,000 to the winner of an audience choice award and the maker of the video that gets the most views.
The contest follows a big publicity stunt last week, in which AMC released a horde of "Walking Dead"-inspired "zombies" on the streets of New York to raise awareness about the dispute.
AMC also has been making its case in subtler ways. Every television commercial for an AMC show concludes with a brief statement reminding viewers that the program is "not available on Dish," and print ads usually include the phrase "Available on cable and satellite -- not available on Dish." The network also launched a website arguing its side of the dispute.
Dish hasn't been responding to AMC's provocations, and its silence looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future. PaidContent noted that AMC's campaign hasn't yet convinced AMC fans to cancel their Dish subscriptions en masse. And Dish has other fish to fry -- the company is currently engaged in a whopping 135 civil cases in federal court.