Ergen: Turner Loss Not Having a Big Impact

Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen seems ready to dig in his heels in its fight with Turner Broadcasting System, adding that although he was disappointed the home of CNN and Cartoon Network failed to extend its contracts with the satellite company, he is ready to keep the channels off his system for as long as it takes.

“When we take something down, we are prepared as a company to leave it down forever,” Ergen said on a conference call with analysts Tuesday.

Turner networks like Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, CNN en Español, HLN, truTV and Turner Classic Movies went dark to Dish’s 14 million subscribers on Oct. 20.  While customers still have access to Turner’s larger networks like TNT and TBS, carriage agreements for those channels could expire soon, the Dish chairman said on a conference call with analysts to discuss third quarter results.

Ergen said that so far the Turner dispute has had little impact on the satellite company. Dish lost about 12,000 pay TV customers in the third quarter – compared to a gain of 35,000 customers in the same period last year – but the Turner dispute happened after the quarter had already ended.

While Ergen said losing TNT (which carries National Basketball Association games) and TBS (which specializes in syndicated comedy shows like The Big Bang Theory) would be “more painful,” he doesn’t believe it will have a huge impact.

“It would be a little but tougher if their original programming was a success like AMC,” Ergen said, adding that other Turner fare like reruns and even the NBA are available through other sources.

“When you start having a lot of your product being available [through] a lot of different sources, customers don’t want to pay for it twice,” Ergen said. “Sometimes they’re willing to watch it the next day or the next week in a more convenient structure, because young people are not watching stuff live now, except ESPN,” he added.

Ergen said that if Dish was no longer in a relationship with Turner it wouldn’t have to raise prices next year.

“We’d lose some customers, but we would save a big, big, big check from a cash flow perspective,” Ergen said. "And for those people who don’t really care about news or cartoons where we have other new shows and other cartoon shows, would they rather save the money? I think there is a pretty good chance that they would.”