Carriage standoff has cablers 'Breaking' new ground with on-air ads

Marketing campaigns for TV shows usually accentuate the positive, so the team at AMC Networks has been challenged by the need to get get creative with a negative situation. The result: a humorous series of on-air promo spots that highlight the cabler’s carriage standoff with satcaster Dish Network.

Cablers AMC, IFC, We and Sundance have missed no opportunity to keep the dispute in the public eye by crafting a series of spots emphasizing that shows including AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” “Hell on Wheels” and “The Walking Dead” are not available to Dish subscribers.

The spots cleverly weave the message around dramatic scenes from the shows — and they encourage viewers to show mercy to Dish Network subscribers by inviting them over to watch the shows they’re missing.

“Humor is a great way to reach people,” said Jan Diedrichsen, AMC Networks’ senior veep of affiliate marketing. “It’s been a great way to get our message out there but do it with a soft sell that feels a little bit more organic to promotion for the shows.”

AMC Networks brass made the strategic decision to keep the message front and center to anyone considering changing subscription TV providers that AMC and the other channels are not available on Dish.

The aggressive stance is driven by AMC Networks’ view that the impasse with Dish is not a garden-variety carriage fee dispute but is instead fueled by the satcaster’s long-running legal battle with AMC’s former parent company, Cablevision. Dish denies the claim and maintains it is holding the line on AMC’s demands for sizable fee hikes.

Cablevision sued Dish in 2008, claiming breach of contract in a distribution deal for the now-defunct Voom HDTV channel package. After many twists and turns, the case is set to go to trial next month in New York Supreme Court. Dish dropped the AMC Networks channels as of July 1 after the previous carriage pact expired, even though AMC Networks was spun off as a separate publicly held entity last year.

There’s no doubt that the loss of Dish’s 14 million subscribers has taken a bite of out AMC Networks’ bottom line, especially because it is a pure-play programming entity following its separation from Cablevision. AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan had to warn investors earlier this month as it reported second-quarter earnings that the continued loss of carriage on the nation’s No. 2 satcaster (behind DirecTV) would have a “materially higher” impact on cash flow in the future.

Although there have been no substantive discussions between AMC and Dish since the shutoff last month, there’s been speculation that the looming Sept. 18 start of the trial may spur movement toward a settlement. AMC will also likely gain some leverage as the third-season bow of “The Walking Dead,” one of cable’s most-watched series, approaches on Oct. 14.

Certainly, AMC marketers are doing all they can to hammer Dish in all of their on- and off-air marketing. The tagline “Not available on Dish” is included on every bit of promo and advertising the cabler has fielded in the past two months. And there’s no plan to let up any time soon. The spots for AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead” have receieved the most attention, but the cablers have also been running not-on-Dish spots tied to We’s “Braxton Family Values,” “Bridezillas” and “My Fair Wedding,” IFC’s “Portlandia” and “Comedy Bang Bang” as well as programs on Sundance Channel.

With the much-anticipated return of “Walking Dead,” AMC’s promo team is turning to social media to distribute thousands of “Adopt-a-Dish-Subscriber” kits that encourage fans to throw a season-premiere viewing party for those who can’t get the channels. The cabler did a similar promotion tied to the fifth season bow of “Breaking Bad” on July 15.

” ‘The Walking Dead’ (return) is going to be a big television event, so this is building awareness, letting them know the date it’s coming back and at the same time letting any customers who might be thinking of switching providers that they’d better not switch to Dish,” Diedrichsen said.

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