The ugly battle between Dish Network and Turner Broadcasting rages on and could get even worse. If the two sides can't resolve their differences, TNT and TBS could be off the air for 14 million Dish households nationwide or one-eighth of its potential audience.
For a month, Dish has cut off several Turner-based networks because of a dispute over costs and digital access. Channels affected include Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, HLN and CNN.
The TNT and TBS deal, separate from the others, expires Dec. 5. The two networks are by far Turner's most popular ones, typically finishing in the top 10 among all cable networks in audience. If they are blacked out for any length of time, this could hurt both sides. (Good news udpate: On Friday, the two sides agreed to extend their existing contracts several months in hopes of hammering out a deal later. They also agreed to return eight Turner networks back onto Dish while keeping TBS and TNT on.)
Turner is claiming befuddlement that Dish is being so obstinate because it says its offers to them are comparable to those with other providers. Through its www.savemyshows.com site, it's encouraging people to either complain to Dish or switch providers. Here is Turner's latest statement:
Our efforts in recent weeks to restore the Turner networks to Dish customers have been rejected at every turn by Dish leadership. 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.
Dish TV has not released any fresh statements since Turner's salvo.
Given that TNT and TBS air plenty of popular shows, the backlash could be potentially greater than with those other networks. TBS has on its upcoming schedule fresh episodes of "American Dad," Conan O'Brien's late show, "Cougar Town" and repeats galore of "The Big Bang Theory." TNT has NBA games, "Rizzoli & Isles," "Major Crimes" and "Cold Justice," to name a few.
Chairman Charlie Ergen of Dish has positioned his service as lowest-priced option among cable/satellite providers and part of his strategy is holding the line on carriage costs with networks. With more people unwilling to pay for cable or satellite bills, this makes sense. In a recent earnings call, where he mocked CNN and its relative loss in relevance, he acknowledged that TNT and TBS could go away as well:
“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,” Ergen said. “So we have to be prepared that those channels will come down as well.” He said he anticipated the loss of those two channels “will be more painful,” calling the loss of the other networks "a non-event at this point."
So who has more leverage at this point?
Ergen may be in a tougher spot with CBS, which could go dark on Dish as early as tomorrow. CBS has far more popular shows than any of the Turner networks.
Previous stories on the dispute