Satcaster's ditching of AMC risks angering fanboy viewers

For Dish Network subscribers angry about the operator dropping AMC, it’s time to unleash the zombies — and again test the age-old question about whether passion in the TV-viewing equation can trump inertia.

Dish and AMC are in court over an arcane, longstanding legal dispute, which has surely contributed to Dish’s decision to withdraw the network and its sister channels. Thus far, nothing — including depriving subscribers of AMC’s prestigious dramas “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” — has been sufficient to break the impasse.

Enter “The Walking Dead,” a series with not only unvarnished hit credentials — roughly 9 million people, an enviable number for most broadcast shows, watched last spring’s season finale — but the sort of rabid diehards associated with the fantasy/sci-fi/comics genre.

Presumably, if anything could place pressure on Dish, this post-apocalyptic drama about zombies run amok would be the show. As Paid Content noted after the blackout began, with “Dead” destined to rise again Oct. 14, Dish could have a “major subscriber revolt on its hands if AMC isn’t restored by that time.”

So far, though, quantifying the impact has been elusive, and the anticipated legions of peasants with pitchforks have yet to materialize.

Curious about what Dish is telling subscribers, I sent an email pretending to be one. The response can only be called strange, saying AMC doesn’t provide customers “the best content at the best value,” then adding, “You can watch these popular shows via iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.com using many devices, including but not limited to: PS3, Xbox, Roku, select smart TVs and Blu-ray players.”

So AMC shows are popular, but not a good value. And while Dish — like every other provider — wants to secure its unique and exclusive bond with consumers, here’s a list of ways to circumvent our delivery system. Brilliant.

Historically, the passion of zombified fans has been marshaled for narrow purposes — namely, spawning campaigns to prod networks into reinstating or renewing canceled, low-rated shows. As such, the leverage has almost invariably been limited, despite how persistent some of those fans can be.

As a proven hit, “Walking Dead” has far greater potential to mobilize viewers. Yet the task goes beyond firing off emails or venting online (and there’s been no shortage of that) to taking action — going to the trouble and possible expense of changing multichannel video programming distributor, including the headaches associated with waiting around for an installer to show up.

As for whether the threat can bring Dish to its knees, one has to start breaking down those 9 million viewers who watched “Dead’s” most recent finale — before Dish dropped AMC — factoring that Dish accounts for about one in seven MVPD subscribers in the U.S., only a portion of which, obviously, are viewers of the show, and fewer still committed fans.

How many, potentially, would switch service over a single program? And what would it take — a few hundred thousand, perhaps? — to have a big enough financial impact for Dish to feel the pain?

These scenarios are being played out with some regularity of late, as networks and operators jockey over fees, with the networks using must-have programming — especially sports — as a cudgel to extract higher fees.

In fact, the Lakers fans that Time Warner Cable is relying on to launch regional sports networks have a lot in common with the marauding hordes in “Walking Dead.” They want to see their team, and hardly care about the nuances of negotiating carriage deals.

In a bundled world, however, calibrating the precise value of such relationships remains murky, one reason Dish has been emboldened to behave so arrogantly in the recent dispute.

For all the complaining consumers do, distributors have generally bet — usually with justification — that a temporary halt in receiving a single program won’t be enough to jeopardize their business.

Dish is clearly pushing that theory to its limit, and it may avoid repercussions. But it could also be that messing with these zombies winds up biting them in the ass.

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