(Note: There might be spoilers ahead)

In a much-publicized feud of serial proportions, AMC and DISH have battled to win the hearts and minds of television viewers across the nation. Do you have DISH? Then you haven’t seen this season of Breaking Bad (spoiler: they’ve started making meth), you missed Mad Men (spoiler: Don Draper has questionable level of respect for women), and you aren’t going to figure out what happens after Hershel’s Farm on The Walking Dead (spoiler: they’ll run into zombies.)

ESPN started the trend in the late 1980s. And as cable grew, more content providers took advantage of the idea that without their content, the cable industry would falter. People buy cable to see the shows they want. Then, the networks that air them get put into the driver’s seat. AMC wants X so that DISH can have the privilege of airing their content. DISH doesn’t like it, and so the argument continues.

While the minute contractual details aren’t generally accessible to the average viewer, this fact remains: 14 million DISH subscribers can’t see anything AMC. But the fun part (for someone with—ahem—DirecTV) is that the whole mess is two corporate entities pointing fingers at each other. (Full Disclosure: Yours truly tends to side with the content providers on issues like these.)

But in that finger-pointing war, there’s no question about who is winning. DISH is the zombie, and AMC and its viewers are, collectively, Rick Grimes with a little Don Draper and all the best parts of Walter White rolled into one.

I Am the One Who Knocks

In a big power move, AMC has encouraged DISH subscribers to embrace social and take to YouTube in an effort to not only give fans an outlet for their frustration, but also to engage people who might not even care about the dispute.

AMC launched a campaign in August called “Hey DISH! Where’s My AMC?” and let visitors to their site vote on videos. There’s almost no way DISH can fight this effectively and generate as much publicity momentum as hundreds of YouTube videos might.

Pro Tip: This one is probably my favorite.

AMC 1, DISH 0.

Pete’s Indecent Proposal

AMC’s proposal isn’t exactly indecent; they’re simply encouraging subscribers of competing services to invite friends, family, and neighbors over to watch their favorite AMC shows.

But it certainly feels like AMC is Pete, we’re Joan, and everyone’s eyes on AMC’s “Big Three” is the Jaguar account they’re hoping to secure.

As Elizabeth Mitchell mentions in the article linked above, the ad not only encourages network disloyalty, but it also uses the shows that people love to paint DISH as the big, bad, greedy executive sitting on a chair made of money with a monocle and top hat.

“…the video simultaneously zings the opponent’s reputation, rallies the home team troops, and encourages mutiny among Dish customers. Don Draper would be proud.”

Well that calls for a Lucky Strike and a glass of whiskey!


Zombies in the Barn

Sometimes we do things that seem like great ideas only to have them backfire. Maybe we know it’s not the best idea and we’re just great at rationalizing it. Maybe we’re devoid of self-awareness and nobody around us has the heart (or the wherewithal) to tell us how poorly something might go. But we’ll inevitably find out when someone points out our mistake, and then all hell breaks loose.

DISH can’t remain silent in this matter, and nobody expects them to. But while the majority of support online is overwhelmingly in AMC’s favor, DISH is arming its customer service representatives with information that feels like it only helps AMC’s cause.

From a DISH email to Content Equals Money Founder, Amie Marse:

“We understand your concern about AMC. The channels AMC Networks forces us to deliver — WE, IFC and AMC — do not give our customers the best content at the best value. We have permanently removed them from the DISH line up as of June 30. We have remained in contact with AMC throughout this situation. Should AMC choose to change their position, we remain open to a proposal that would resolve this issue. AMC Networks has further devalued its programming by making its handful of popular shows available to consumers via iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.com. This means that AMC Networks wants us to pay many millions of dollars for content that is available to our subscribers the next day for just a couple of dollars.”

While somewhat correct (AMC doesn’t force DISH to do anything) they do bundle their partner networks. DISH professes this to mean carrying WE and IFC devalues their bundle they purchase from AMC. They go on to place the entire impetus for resolution on AMC, as if they themselves don’t actually have a seat from which they can influence the outcome at the bargaining table.

DISH goes on to insist that making content available via media other than the traditional cable/satellite method actually devalues that content. Logically, that’s incorrect. While it’s easy to understand why DISH would be threatened by non-traditional content delivery systems, offering shows on iTunes days after airing or an entire season later on Netflix (TV shows aren’t generally available on Netflix until the next season has already started airing) doesn’t devalue the programming. It simply pushes the traditional content delivery method towards irrelevance.

I think we all understand where DISH is coming from in their email, but it’s keeping zombies in the barn. DISH, you should know better. It’s an idea that comes from a good place, but isn’t well executed, it sounds whiny, and it doesn’t make sense.


Escaping the Farm

While the easiest metric for success in the PR sub-battle here is number of subscribers, it’s misleading. Just like other providers, DISH charges an early termination fee for canceling your subscription to their service. And while many people may miss Walter White every week, not having him around isn’t enough to justify paying $17.50 for every month short of your 24-month contract. (Based on 2011 early termination fee information.)

It’s likely that there will be a small drop in subscriber numbers. Sam Thielman at Adweek (quoted in the early article from NPR.org) says there has been a small drop, but nothing close to a mass exodus. The real effect of this is nearly immeasurable, as by the time the customers who’ve renounced their loyalty depart for other providers, it won’t be related back to this dispute.

The real metric to understand how people feel is by browsing social networks to see who’s saying what, and about whom. Or you could always drop by your neighbors’ house, you know, the ones that have the DISH satellite out front, and invite them over for The Walking Dead season premiere on October 14th (only on AMC!)

Unfortunately that metric, unless it’s damaging to the profit model upon which DISH relies, won’t bring back three of the best shows on television any sooner.

Use the comments section below to offer your thoughts on the dispute. Who’s in the best bargaining position?