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Echostar makes Lifetime cut

Satellite distrib pulls plug on LMN

NEW YORK — Echostar’s temporary removal of Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network over a financial dispute has escalated into a permanent cancellation of LMN.

A spokesman for Echostar said the satellite distributor has signed a carriage agreement with Oxygen Media, which will displace LMN on the tier that will funnel 7 million of Echostar’s 12 million subscribers to the network.

Lifetime has put heavy pressure on Echostar in the last week by joining with Comcast, Time Warner and other cable operators to urge Echostar customers who are fans of Lifetime to cancel their satellite dishes and become cable subscribers.

A letter-writing campaign organized by Lifetime drew in such groups as the National Organization for Women, the YWCA and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The anti-Echostar protest culminated in advertisements in the New York Times, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, the last two aimed at Echostar’s Colorado headquarters.

The pressure backfired, and an Echostar spokesman said the company may soon cancel Lifetime in favor of another similar network, the Chuck Dolan-owned WE: Women’s Entertainment, which is now running in the Lifetime dial position, reaching all 12 million satellite customers.

Echostar said Lifetime wants a 76% rate increase, which would force Echostar to pass on the cost to its subscribers. A Lifetime spokesman said Echostar is exaggerating the increase, adding that the network has dropped its demand that Echostar take a third network, Lifetime Real Women.

Geraldine Laybourne, chairwoman and CEO of Oxygen Media, said her negotiations with Echostar had dragged out for six months. There’s no doubt that her discussions zipped to a successful conclusion within days after Echostar went to war with Lifetime.

The instant addition of 7 million Echostar customers balloons Oxygen’s total subscriber base to a figure just shy of 65 million. Laybourne said that with the Echostar contract, Oxygen has now struck deals with all of the major distributors in cable and satellite.

Although Lifetime and Echostar continue to be at loggerheads, the Lifetime spokesman said Oxygen and WE are not equal substitutes for Lifetime. The spokesman points to figures compiled by Kagan Research, which reports that Lifetime spent $352.9 million to buy and produce its programming last year, compared to Oxygen’s $81.4 million and WE’s $47.3 million.

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