Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen can change his tune on an issue more elegantly than just about anyone in the media business. Consider how easily he just reversed himself in an analyst call where he explained his company’s agreement to resume carrying AMC Networks’ channels, which he dropped in June. He brought them back as part of the $700M deal to settle AMC’s breach of contract suit against Dish after it ended a 15-year agreement to carry the now defunct VOOM HD networks. Ergen noted that AMC’s hit The Walking Dead is “off the charts.” If the channel has more shows like that “then it will be a fair deal for us.” And he likes the AMC folks. “Absent the litigation we probably wouldn’t have gotten to that point” of dropping the channels. That’s a head-spinning shift from three months ago when he said it was a question of cost, not courts. AMC’s networks were too expensive, he said then, especially since “our customers are not looking at zombies in New York City… They live on farms and ranches.” What’s more, he preferred doing business with Mark Cuban, whose HDNet channels took the slots formerly held by AMC’s services.
He contrasted AMC’s legalistic deal making with “what I call the ‘Godfather approach’. If I do you a favor, one day you might have to do a favor for me”. By working with Cuban ”our margins are going to be positively affected and we’ll do business with people who are fun to do business with.” He added that Dish was determined to fight AMC. “When we think we’re right, we’re like a dog with a bone” and even if it lost the first trial “we’re going to continue on, which ultimately will be a very long process.” So what happened? It wasn’t so much the embarrassing setbacks in court, where the judge determined that Dish had destroyed and hidden evidence that might have helped AMC. Ergen says he recalled the multi-year patent infringement fight with TiVo, which cost Dish $500M to settle. “We ended up with TiVo probably where we could have been 5 years earlier,” he says.