DISH Threatens to Blackout TCM + Turner Networks “Forever”

ErgenLet’s say you were the chairman of the third largest multichannel video programming distributor in the United States, and your customers were entering the third week of a blackout of some of their favorite TV channels, due to an inscrutable squabble between corporate behemoths.

How would you discuss the situation in a public venue? Odds are your approach would be less tone deaf than that of DISH Network chairman Charlie Ergen.

“It’s almost been a non-event at this point,” Ergen told analysts and members of the media today, referring to the blackout of eight Turner networks, including TCM, that began on October 21. “Turner…is one of the easy ones to take down.”

And just in case you’re one of those bright-eyed optimists who thinks, “These companies will work it out. They always do,” Ergen added this little nugget:

“When we take something down we’re prepared to leave it down forever.”

dish_network_logoErgen is clearly attempting to negotiate in the media, perhaps in the wake of the blustery bombast from Turner CEO John Martin at Time Warner’s Investor Day presentation on October 15:

“We are getting the rate increases we’re seeking. By year end will have new deals with 8 of top 10 distributors,” Martin assured analysts. “We’re approaching these discussions from a position of strength.”

While it’s true that Turner’s cable network affiliate revenues are up 8.8% over 2013 to $4.2 billion (second only to Disney), Ergen is unimpressed, suggesting that the channels in this bundle – excluding TNT and TBS, which are part of a separate deal – are not priorities to his subscribers. 

“(Channels) like CNN are not quite the product that they used to be. You can imagine: CNN down on election night would have been a disaster 15 or 20 years ago. Now there are plenty of other places for people to get news,” he said. “We have other news and cartoon shows (referring to Cartoon Network and Boomerang). (Would subscribers) rather save the money? There’s a pretty good chance that they would.”

BobErgen’s “one channel is interchangeable with another” worldview was demonstrated within hours of the blackout when DISH began swapping out Turner networks for replacements with similar programming. TCM with replaced with FXM, formerly the Fox Movie Channel, an advertiser-supported network that programs recent film releases during half its programing day. Not long after I wrote an article condemning DISH for this bait-and-switch, the satcaster began simulcasting MGM HD in TCM’s stead. MGM, which also carries ads, may be a more appropriate substitute than FXM, but it still pales in comparison to TCM’s 24 hours per-day of commercial-free classics.

And Ergen is not stopping at CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang. He’s also extending his posturing to DISH’s carriage of TNT and TBS, which is up for renewal later this year.

“(I)f 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. So we have to be prepared that those channels will come down as well,” he said. “Those will be more painful.”

With an average subscriber fee of $1.33 (second only to ESPN), the loss of TNT alone from 14.1 million homes would have a impact on Turner’s bottom line, both in affiliate fees and ad revenue. When you add TBS and the other Turner networks, the stakes increase. To put the current dispute in perspective, all eight of the currently blacked-out channels on DISH (excluding TNT and TBS) cost subscribers on average $1.57 per month combined, which equates to only pennies per month, per subscriber for TCM. Think about that the next time you pay a gigantic cable bill strictly because you want to keep watching TCM.

Lost in the gamesmanship and focus on the bottom line is the importance TCM plays in the lives of many of its viewers – this one included. Ergen may dismiss it as “easy to take down” and replaceable with other channels, but reader feedback I’ve received tells a very different story. Here are a few excerpts of comments posted on Cinematically Insane over the last two weeks:

“I want TCM back! There is no TV without it.” – Ruthie

“I watch TCM every day…This has got to be solved YESTERDAY.” – Kathleen

“This is bull! I want TCM back. Only channel I watch and now it’s gone.” – Connie

“My husband loves TCM. Every night at 7pm he turns it on and usually will watch what is on… Please negotiate whatever is needed and bring it back.” – Jean

“TCM was the main reason I’ve stayed with Dish network… They need to settle this dispute.’’ – John

“I pay $86.27 a month just to WATCH TCM… I can watch it for hours and forget the nasty old world we have.” – Ricky B.

“Fix your problems we pay WAY TO MUCH FOR TV AND IT IS YOUR JOBS TO KEEP ALL THE PROGRAMMING THAT WE PAY FOR.” – Dan

“Please please please bring back TCM because it is the only channel I watch. What a great inconvenience & aggravation. With all the terrible world events happening TCM is a positive outlet.” – Lora

“TCM…is the ONLY channel I can leave on and not worry that my kids will walk by and see or hear something inappropriate…Have some moral and ethical decency and put TCM back on the air.” – Gina

“There is no channel that can replace TCM. The classic movies…(are) one of a kind and such good entertainment! Beats a lot of the trashy shows on the major networks any day. Wish DISH and Turner would hurry up and resolve their dispute and return TCM back where it belongs! I look forward to watching TCM every day and miss it so very much.” – Yvonne

“If Dish cannot / will not bring TCM etc. back PRONTO we will be gone for good!” – Mike and Tina

“I love TCM and watch it every day. Greed has taken over the entire world. Isn’t billions of dollars enough for all you people? Let the little man watch his programs. We are the ones that made you what you are.”– Albert

“I subscribe to Dish because of TCM and I have dropped other services because of issues like this. I have a terminal illness, just please let me go with my memories.” – name withheld

Based on Ergen’s comments today, a deal between DISH and Turner had better be imminent, or it may never happen.

“(T)here comes a point in time – certainly during this month,” he said. “(that) if we don’t have a deal we just make a long-term decision to go a different direction.

Update 11/5/14: Read the Turner CEO’s response to Ergen here – plus a theory on what really may be causing this blackout 

robert-osborne-pic

About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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42 Responses to DISH Threatens to Blackout TCM + Turner Networks “Forever”

  1. DISH subscribers have to vote with their feet. Ergen certainly won’t listen to complaints about TCM and other favorite programming missing, but he will when it hurts his bottom line. We have Verison FIOS, and if they ever drop HGTV my wife will insist that we switch the next day.

  2. Randi says:

    What does Robert Osbourne have to say about this??? What about Ted Turner. TV used to b free except for the electricity, now we pay for it & still can’t get what we want??? It’s unAmerican

  3. Kelly says:

    My cousin who share my love of classic movies be so tick off she be okay we going play that game MR CEO FINEEE I am cutting my contract she be yelling f-bomb at customer service people and they try do something want her back fine I just go another subscriber company beside GETTV and Movies tv running classic movies

    SO F**** YOU DISH Network

  4. Kelly says:

    wait till she hear that OH BOY my cousin be so tick off she going be F-bomb raider fan on Dish network not going be pretty f**** you Dish network she going send F-bomb on Facebook at Dish network

  5. Kelly says:

    hey dish networks you may get OTA Classic movies channels like GETV and Movies tv perhaps new Decades tv network coming over the air on CBS Sub channel just sayin

  6. clawkent says:

    Charlie Ergen is a soulless jackass.

  7. Dan says:

    I would like TCM back, don’t care about the others. Just what is the problem anyway???

  8. 70srichard says:

    I subscribe to almost everything Dish offers, this is a customer for more than ten years, spending more than $150 a month. I will be changing to cable or Direct if Dish is not offering TCM. I’m patient enough but they need to get this done by December or things will have to move. I don’t know the economics, but playing hard ball with viewers seems like a strange gamble.

  9. vp19 says:

    Used your piece as material for my column today: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/739194.html

  10. We stopped subscribing to any sort of provider years ago because I didn’t want to essentially pay $100+ a month for TCM, so I would be enraged if I were a Dish customer. Down the line, if there was a way to pay only for TCM, I would willingly shell out $10-20 a month for it.

  11. Sandy F. says:

    I would definitely vote with my feet and leave if I were a Dish customer. TCM is the one channel that is non-negotiable for me. I will be house sitting for a friend at Christmas and they have Dish. Thank God for the Watch TCM app or I would have a very unhappy holiday. These companies that jerk their customers around really anger me. It’s our outrageous cable & satellite bills that we pay every month that make these people money. We deserve to be respected and not treated like gum on the bottom of their designer shoes.

  12. They find out what you love then they make you pay for it, then they take it away.

  13. mare says:

    I have watched TCM since day one it brings joy to my days and peace to my nights. I miss Robert Osborne.

  14. Reed Newman says:

    We subscribe to a Dish premium package for what amounts to 4 or 5 channels that we watch. Most of the other channels are useless garbage or reruns of trash that are broadcast simply because it doesn’t cost Dish or the provider any cash outlay. How many times has Independence Day been shown the last 3 or 4 years? There are dozens of movies just like that which are repeated ad nauseum. Reality tv has ruined the medium. I would rather watch re-runs of tv westerns than the crap they show today! TCM is an island of class all its own. Yes, they repeat quality movies. Quality is the operative word. These movies have stood the test of time. There should be several movie channels like TCM. Dish you are messing with something that isn’t broke. Your customer service sucks, your service is way overpriced and you are greedy to boot. Keep it up much longer and you will be a thing of the past. Enough of your BS. Get it done or we’re moving on.
    Reed Newman
    Boerne, Texas

  15. Antoinette says:

    TCM is the ONLY channel on television that is worthwhile to watch, especially around the Christmas season. I was absolutely sickened to learn that DISH dropped TCM — which I hope is only a temporary issue. Needless to say, if TCM isn’t restored soon, I’ll be forced to get cable.

  16. My wife and I have the current package with Dish because of T.C.M and want T.C.M. and C.N.N. restored. If Turner Cannels are not restored, we will discontinue doing business with Dish and in fact we’re considering not using satellite or cable at all due to rising costs compared to the use of a digital antenna plus Netflix and Amazon Prime. The one time cost of such an antenna and the under $20,00 per month for Netflix and Prime seem rather attractive without having to pay for so many channels that we never watch!

  17. dennis says:

    I wish another company would take over and make sure that this never happens! That just might be possible!!! :):):) and assure us all that what we pay for is what we will always get!!!! We are living in the U.S.A. are we not??

  18. Ron Gierchak says:

    Why doesn’t Turner/TimeWarner have a streaming (to TV!) app for TCM. I would gladly pay for that as TCM is the only reason I have Dish! HBO is creating a stand alone TV app and the same should be done for TCM. If TCM isn’t back on soon I will just pay the cancellation fee for Dish since I have found I never watch anything on Dish except TCM!

  19. Please return TCM. It is one of the few reasons we watch TV.

  20. SweetNannie says:

    I would change to a different venue for my television besides dish TCM is not on there soon again. It’s probably the one I watch the most out of HBO, SHOWtime, STarz, etc. I do have them, but rarely watch except for Outlander on Starz. Get TCM back, I could care less about the other channels especially CNN.

  21. Michael says:

    I’ve been a Dish customer for a while, I only watch a handful of channels anyway and wouldn’t you know it that most have been taken down.i hate to leave dish but that may end up being the case you make us sign up for these ridiculous packages with a hundred or more channels when most of us watch 10 to 20 channels, I mean who needs all those extra premium channels 2 or 4 HBO, Starz, Cinemax, and all those Sirius radio stations who listens to that you can save customers a lot of money if you remove all those stations no one watches. Dish, Turner get your act together or I’ll be leaving soon luckily I’m not in a contract anymore.

  22. Barbie says:

    I have cable for TCM and HLN. Love the only channel on TV that’s not all sex or violence. HLN I like to court reporting.

  23. Breda says:

    I also pay over $150.00 Per month….TCM was on 6 to 8 hours a day. . .bring it back. Mgm channel does not compare.

  24. John says:

    Two words describes all of this. CORPORATE GREED!!

  25. Mortimer says:

    Charlie Ergen is braindead. There are numerous testimonies scattered around the net from current and former DISH employees that describe just how truly idiotic their management is. They plainly ignore customer feedback and would rather have their egos stroked than do their jobs. They literally operate on delusions. Shouldn’t be legal to run a business this way.

  26. tanya says:

    Bye bye dish ! Calling today to cancel

  27. La Drenda says:

    ITS ALL ABOUT GREED!!!!! MONEY MONEY MONEY THEY HAVE BILLIONS AND THEY WANT MORE AND ALL I WANT IS CNN WHICH I GLADLY PAY FOR EVERY MONTH I EVEN TRIED TO WATCH CNNGO ON MY LAP TOP, COULDN’ GET IT. THIS SUCKS !!!! I HAVE TREID TO BE PATIENT.

  28. Brad and Peggy Donaldson says:

    Dishnetwork needs to get tcm back we have been loyal customers for 15 yrs but we will be switching soon if they don’t get tcm back

  29. Sue Weihe says:

    bring back TCM, this is one of the most viewed, I’m sure we will look for alternative service if not, …..and yes .forever sounds like you need to reformat this one

  30. Brenda Biever says:

    If I switch to Direct, will I be able to get TCM. It is the one channel I watch.

  31. Linda says:

    TCM or no more DISH

  32. howell says:

    got rid of cable year ago…..do not miss it one bit….70+ crystal channels channels with antenna and i still dont watch…

  33. kasey carter says:

    I don’t want dish anymore without my TCM it’s all I watch! I will be trying to get a new provider!

  34. Mark says:

    We just expanded our pkg 2 include TCM & had it 4 less than a month. NOW u may drop TBS & TNT? Tell me, what channels r comparable/interchangeable with them? I’m not going 2 pay more money 4 less channels. Sell ur story 2 someone else.

  35. Mike says:

    Doesn’t make any sense to tick off 14 million people, hardly any classic tv shows on any channels on Dish, tvland is not what it used to be , 50% commercials half hour show with 15 minutes of ads, MeTV isn’t on dish unless your in a huge city, antennatv isn’t on dish either, guess I will go back to c-band and directv

  36. John mannheimer says:

    My mom loves tcm please try
    to get it back on the air because
    she loves the old movies please try
    to solve this issue because this channel means a lot to us try
    to get this channel back up and running again

  37. Teresa Howard says:

    TCM has the wonderful old movies & special big & little spots of Traveltalk, short biographies, time-out to remember these special people when they pass, & soooo much more! And the Cartoon channel & Boomerang are the only places to go to share with my children & grandchildren to see the programs I grew up with. Please don’t take these away. They are too special and cannot be replaced by anything there is to offer today. Please

  38. Suzy says:

    If FOX is not back on the air ASAP WE WILL LEAVE DISH!!

  39. John Conklin says:

    If I don’t have Fox news I’m going to have to change my provider…I’m sorry.

  40. brian s says:

    People please… if your life revolves around a TV channel weather it be AMC, TCM, or FOX. Then maybe its time to get rid of your TV’s. As long as my rate stays the same, Im sure that the other 200 channels will show me the news or an old b&w movie…..sad sad sad.

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