What Viacom could learn from AMC-Dish Network in its dispute with DirecTV

Steve Donohue, FierceCableNearly two weeks after Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH) dropped AMC, IFC and WE TV from its lineup, AMC Networks announced Thursday morning that it will allow Dish subscribers to watch the season premiere of Breaking Bad online this Sunday.

AMC's (Nasdaq: AMCX) move came just one day after Viacom (NYSE: VIA), which is waging a carriage dispute with Dish rival DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV), pulled all free episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, The Daily Show, Jersey Shore and other hits from  the websites of Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV. Viacom's gambit is aimed at stopping DirecTV subscribers that lost its channels as a result of the dispute on Tuesday from watching its content online. But Viacom isn't just hurting DirecTV subscribers with its move. Subscribers from Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and every other pay TV provider can't watch its complete episodes online, even if they can authenticate that they are a paying cable subscriber.

While Viacom is pulling free content from the web in a bid to force DirecTV to agree to pay increased license fees for its channels, AMC is using the web to market its most popular series to Dish customers. AMC is hoping to force Dish to agree to a deal, or risk losing subscribers that are fans of Breaking Bad to its cable rivals.

"AMC wants its loyal Dish viewers to experience the excitement of the Breaking Bad premiere at the same time as their friends and neighbors, and we want to give Dish customers an extra week to switch providers so they can enjoy the rest of the season," AMC said Thursday. 

None of the programming and distribution executives involved in the Viacom-DirecTV and AMC-Dish disputes should be praised. Allowing their contract disputes to become public is bad news for the entire pay TV industry, and will likely result in regulators and legislators taking a closer look at rules that could prevent programmers and distributors from pulling popular programming from viewers as a negotiation tactic.

But the way AMC is using the web to promote the season premiere of Breaking Bad is a smart move. Instead of using the web in a similar manner to promote its programming by offering viewers samples of full-length episodes, Viacom appears more focused at using the web to mock DirecTV.