A word of advice to Turner Broadcasting: When you fight with Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, use a bazooka not a pea shooter. Turner quietly noted on a website today that the satellite company’s 14 million subscribers soon might lose TNT and TBS — a contrast to CBS, which just issued a noisy call-to-arms to its fans who might see network-owned stations go dark on Dish as early as Thursday. Turner says that it also plans spots on TNT and TBS, online ads, a social media campaign, and billboards in Atlanta.
Dish hasn’t aired Turner’s other networks, including CNN, since late October. “Efforts in recent weeks to restore the Turner networks to Dish customers have been rejected at every turn by Dish leadership,” the Time Warner unit says today. “The upcoming expiration on December 5 of our carriage agreement for TNT and TBS means Dish may drop those networks as well. We remain hopeful that we will reach an agreement that restores our networks to the air and eliminates the risk of Dish removing additional Turner networks from its channel lineup.”
Early this month Ergen said he anticipated that TNT and TBS would be in jeopardy. “If you’re Turner and if we’re not going to carry CNN or Cartoon Network, then I’m not really excited when your contract’s up to carry TNT and TBS,” he said in an earnings conference call. “So we have to be prepared that those channels will come down as well.” He acknowledged that the loss of the popular general-entertainment channels “will be more painful,” pointedly calling the absence of the other Turner services almost “a non-event at this point.”
Ergen, who is accustomed to playing hardball with programmers in contract disputes, has been much more timid in his responses to CBS. “We are unsure why CBS decided to involve customers in the contract negotiation process at a point when there is time for the two parties to reach a mutually beneficial deal,” the company said last week when what used to be known as the Tiffany Network warned viewers that its contract is about to expire.