AMC chief Josh Sapan didn’t make colorful references to “zombies in New York City,” or compare himself to the Godfather, the way Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen did yesterday to justify decisions that have left Dish’s 14.1M satellite customers unable to watch AMC, IFC, WEtv and Sundance Channel. But in a conference call with analysts this morning Sapan forcefully disputed Ergen’s central argument: that he broke with AMC because its channels cost too much. The spat “is not about rates,” Sapan says. “In fact, Dish has not discussed rates with us at all.” Ergen dropped the channels, Sapan says, “to try to create leverage for itself” as the companies approach the September 18 trial date in AMC’s $2.5B breach of contract suit against Dish. The case goes back to 2008 when Dish dropped the VOOM suite of HD channels. Since the carriage decision is driven by the litigation, Sapan adds, AMC’s down time on Dish “will be dictated, we believe, by the times of the litigation, including any appeals, as well as when, and on what terms, we reach a new carriage agreement with Dish.” He expects the trial itself to last as long as six weeks. Apart from the situation with Dish, Sapan acknowledges that pay TV distributors are pushing back harder than ever against programmers who want to raise subscription fees. “Exactly where it goes, I think, is hard to know.” But he says he’s encouraged by joint efforts to promote TV Everywhere streaming for pay TV subscribers. “It’s something that we are participating in” and the joint effort to promote the current ecosystem is “actually pretty profound.”
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