Time Warner Strikes Back at Dish as Channels Stay Dark

Time Warner Inc.’s dramas usually take place on its TV series, rather than its earnings calls. Not today.

John Martin, chief executive officer of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting division, struck back after Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen threatened to permanently drop Turner’s cable networks and said CNN is “not quite the product that they used to be.”

“Ordinarily, we wouldn’t be in the practice of commenting publicly as it relates to what’s a private business dispute,” Martin said on Time Warner’s earnings call today. However, Ergen’s comments about the contract dispute during Dish’s earnings call yesterday were “very antagonistic and aggressive,” Martin said.

While Turner is working hard to get a deal done after many of its TV channels went dark, Martin said he was frustrated with Ergen’s comments and that Dish had already agreed to Turner’s rates weeks ago. Not reaching an agreement with Dish would likely reduce Time Warner’s 2014 profit to the lower end of its forecast, the company said today.

Dish blacked out some of Turner’s channels in a contract dispute that began last month. Ergen said yesterday that Turner is asking for double-digit percentage increases in fees for CNN, while viewership is down by half. He said the trend of rising programming costs will continue, even as pay-TV faces competition from Web viewing.

Dark ‘Forever’

Ergen made it clear that he was prepared for even TBS and TNT to go dark -- a contract that Time Warner said is up for renewal soon.

“When we take something down, we’re prepared as a company to leave it down forever,” Ergen said yesterday.

“I think it’s fair to say that we disagreed with virtually everything he said as it related to the importance of our product as it related to his platform,” Martin said today, referring to Ergen. “We honestly have no idea what Dish was talking about yesterday.”

Turner is still willing to work to get a deal done and is supportive of Dish’s efforts to introduce a low-cost, online pay-TV package, Martin said.

Time Warner rose 4 percent to $77.99 at the close in New York time, while Dish fell less than 1 percent to $63.05

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