In less than a week, Albuquerque viewers will be able to satisfy their jones for the fifth and final season of “Breaking Bad.” It’s a show that has captured not just local attention, but national praise. This season’s final 16-episode story arc (which begins airing on July 15) promises to bring the dramatic story of high-school-teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White to its final (perhaps fatal?) conclusion. But a certain percentage of viewers here and across the nation will be missing out on this season. Why? Because Dish Network, the direct broadcast satellite provider for some 14 million Americans, has unceremoniously dumped AMC.
Why would one of the country’s largest television providers drop the network that adds such high-rated shows as “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead” and “Mad Men” to its lineup? Depends on whom you believe.
Dish Network has always been a litigious, scrap-happy company. In 2004, it got into a fight with CBS/Viacom over fees. Viacom blacked out its channels (including MTV and Nickelodeon) for a couple of days before a deal was reached. In 2009, there was a big brawl with ESPN. In 2010, it was Disney’s turn to pull channels (Disney Channel HD, Disney XD HD, ABC Family HD) in a tussle over Dish’s “Free HD for Life” campaign. (They have yet to return.) The Weather Channel, FOX, MSG and countless local channels have been yanked, reinstated and pulled from the service’s lineup over the years.
Earlier in 2012, Dish mixed it up with AMC, saying that the company’s practice of “bundling” was killing viewer choice. In a nutshell, all networks (which are owned by a small handful of corporations) are bundled together. AMC wants Dish to carry its other networks (Sundance, IFC and WE) in addition to AMC. Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming for Dish, said in a news release, “AMC Networks requires us to carry low-rated channels like IFC and WE tv to access a few popular AMC shows. The math is simple: it’s not a good value for our customers.”
To reiterate: Everybody bundles. That’s why you have ESPN Classic in addition to ESPN, MTV2 in addition to MTV. But AMC says this isn’t even about bundling. According to AMC, this is about an old, $2.5 billion lawsuit concerning the high-definition Voom networks operated by AMC back in 2008. AMC says Dish reneged on contracts to carry the channels. A judge agreed, rejecting an appeal by Dish in April. Days later, the company told AMC it would not be renewing contracts. On June 30, AMC and friends were wiped from Dish’s roster. AMC has categorized it as “retaliation for an unrelated lawsuit.”
No matter how you slice it, Dish customers get cheated out of AMC. By way of replacement, Dish has added HDNet (which, as of July 2 got rebranded “AXS TV”), a channel that airs such groundbreaking reality shows as “Bikini Barbershop” and such smash hit movies as Sunshine Barry & The Disco Worms. I doubt many Dish customers feel that’s a fair trade for missing the final season of “Breaking Bad.” Not by a longshot.