Don Draper is slumming with the infomercial crowd.
Amid a standoff on carriage talks, satcaster Dish Network took the extraordinary step early Monday of downgrading the channel positions of AMC Networks outlets, sending them from prime spots in the general entertainment cluster to the graveyard of informercial and barker channels.
AMC, previously parked at channel 130, was exiled to channel 9609. IFC dropped from 131 to 9608 while We TV sank from 128 to 9607.
The jousting between Dish and AMC Networks is heating up as the June 30 expiration of the two companies’ carriage pact approaches. Dish already dropped AMC Networks’ Sundance Channel on May 20.
AMC also raised the stakes in Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men,” which featured multiple spots warning Dish Network subscribers of the pending loss and urging them to support its campaign to pressure the Englewood, Colo.-based satcaster. Similar spots will run in AMC’s “The Killing” and other shows.
On Monday, many of Dish’s 14 million subscribers were likely convinced that AMC had been dropped entirely, a week before the “Mad Men” season finale, when they couldn’t find the channel in its usual spot.
Dish spokesman Robert Toevs said AMC’s move to put the warning spots in its shows “hastened” the decision to downgrade the channel positions. Dish moved Mark Cuban’s HDNet into the channel position previously held by AMC, while IFC was replaced with IndiePlex movie channel and We TV was replaced with NBCUniversal’s Style Network.
The talks between Dish and AMC are complicated by pending litigation between the two sides that stems from a 2008 contract wrangle involving AMC Networks’ former parent company, Cablevision. That case, in which Cablevision accused Dish of reneging on a contract to carry a suite of HD channels branded Voom, is set to go to trial Sept. 18 in New York federal court.
AMC maintains that Dish’s hardball in the contract renewal is retaliation for the Voom lawsuit. Dish insists that the issue is the price hikes that AMC Networks is seeking for the four channels. The sides don’t even agree on whether negotiations are continuing. AMC indicated that there’s been no back and forth on the carriage renewal deal for some time. Toevs said Dish has made the decision not to renew its AMC Networks carriage contract after June 30 but added in the same breath that Dish hopes the sides can come to a resolution. The lawsuit is a “separate issue,” Toevs said.
Dish’s major complaint is that AMC Networks is seeking higher fees for IFC, Sundance and We TV as well as the AMC mothership, which has been on a roll with original series such as “The Walking Dead” and “Hell on Wheels.” If the channels wind up going dark, Dish subs will have to scramble to see the second-to-last season of “Breaking Bad,” which bows July 15.
“It’s our fundamental contention that AMC Networks channels are not delivering value to our subscribers for the price they are asking,” Toevs said.
In a statement, AMC Networks said: “It is unfortunate that, in retaliation for an unrelated lawsuit, Dish is punishing its customers by threatening to drop the AMC Networks, and with this sudden, dramatic change in channel position, making it extremely difficult for their customers to find and watch some of the most popular and acclaimed shows on television.”
AMC Networks may be in for a number of bare-knuckle carriage brawls with cable, satellite and telco distribs in the coming years. Now that AMC Networks is pure-play cable programming company, and not part of the broader Cablevision conglom, the company has every incentive to boost its subscriber fees from key distributors. AMC Networks execs have often lamented that the flagship channel has yet to be fully compensated for its growth since “Mad Men” made it a major player in edgy original series programming.