Zombies Bite Off Half of Digital Advocacy


Originally posted on The Digital Influence Mapping Project with John Bell

It’s a great idea. Unleash well-produced zombies as mailmen, first-responders, shoppers on the streets of city, capture the ‘freak-outs’ of passerby’s and then cap with the meaningful, action-inducing message.

“Put Zombies Back on TV” is the flag we are waving. AMC Networks is the one doing the waving. We have seen these disputes before between content publishers/networks and the distributors. Usually it is about money. Who gets what slice of the pie. It is usually pretty complex and impossible to decipher who is “in the right.”

Essentially, it is two big corporations battling to protect their business needs. The consumer’s interest doesn’t enter into it unless you count the enjoyment we get from watching their programming (which we pay for one way or another). And this is where this corporate advocacy program falls apart. The best that they can do is to try and trigger AMC show fans (e.g. Walking Dead, Mad men, Breaking Bad) to scream bloody murder.

The Zombies are great. Of course, I am exactly who they are trying to reach….almost. I love Walking Dead and all of the combined zombie canon. Problem is, I am not a DISH Network customer. Best that I can do for them is share the video or share the message of the campaign. The DISH network customer, on the other hand, they want them to literally switch to another provider who does carry the AMC shows.

Three problems

The issue is too complex and I really don’t know who to support in the battle.  AMC hasn’t done enough to simplfy the issue, if that is even possible. Here’s how they explain the issue on their microsite:

“DISH’s decision to drop AMC, WEtv, IFC and Sundance Channel had nothing to do with our fees, or our shows. In fact, unlike almost every other dispute you see between providers and programmers, and despite DISH’s misleading claims to the contrary, this is not about fees.

The simple truth is that DISH is using their consumers as pawns to attempt to gain leverage in a lawsuit involving an old and unrelated business venture that has nothing to do with AMC, nothing to do with our shows or fees, and certainly nothing to do with DISH subscribers, who just want to watch the shows they love and are paying DISH for. You will not see any AMC Networks’ shows on DISH any time soon.

In other words, since DISH’s reason for depriving you of AMC programming is based on a lawsuit that won’t be resolved for a long time, this problem won’t be solved shortly, unlike other disputes between programmers and providers, which typically are resolved in a matter of days (weeks at most).”

Huh? What “old and unrelated business venture?” Without simplicity and transparency I cannot possibly form a view as to which profit-making enterprise is worth supporting. AMC’s claims that the only way I see my beloved show is by voicing my discontent or outright switching (to one of the cable providers who are not likely to be bastions of customer goodwill, themselves)

If you are a glutton for detail (it won’t help sort it) then here is how Chip Lebovitz at CNN Money summarized it:

“The two companies have waged a legal war for over four years. In 2008, AMC Networks and its then-parent company, Cablevision, sued Dish (DISH) for $2.5 billion for breaching its 2005 carriage contract with Voom HD, a suite of channels created by a Cablevision (CVC) subsidiary. The dispute centers on whether Dish violated the contract when it dropped Voom because, Dish claims, Voom didn’t spend enough money on programming. A trial is set for September 18th in the New York Supreme Court.

The timing of Dish’s decision to drop AMC seems retaliatory. Dish first threatened to drop AMC in May, a week after it lost an appeal in the Voom lawsuit…

This is a litigation strategy. By not renewing [AMC Networks], Dish gained leverage in the underlying lawsuit,” says Thomas Claps, an analyst at Susquehanna Group. “It highlights the fact that Dish faces significant headwinds in the [Voom] trial.”…

According to Nielsen, in the last six months The Walking Dead had the highest rating in the key 18-49 demographic among Dish’s basic cable subscribers. The network also has popular shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Any Dish blackout of AMC, regardless of its motivations, hurts AMC significantly more than it does Dish. Without access to Dish’s 14 million subscribers, AMC ratings and ad revenue will drop, weakening a company already struggling with net debt of over $2 billion.”

I feel like a zombie on the wrong end of one of Darryl’s arrows from the show The Walking Dead. My head hurts.

The second problem I have is a simple social design and messaging one. They need my advocacy even if I am just a fan and not a customer. The video has a proper ‘throw’ to the “putzombiesback.com” site. Okay, I’ll bite (so-to-speak). But once there, my actions are not as clear and simple as they could be.  If I am a customer, they want me to switch. If not, I can either go to the @AMC_Assist  Twitter handle (>750 followers) or click on one of the ubiquitous social network share buttons at the bottom of the page (only 15K Likes on Facebook and only 5 Tweets?).

I want to share content not pages. Crafting a fan-oriented message that links to the video yet still carries a message of the campaign is what we need. Instead, the auto-fill on the tweet-share says something flat and not action-oriented.

“DISH Customers have lost AMC, WE TV, IFC and SUNDANCE Channel.”

Why not,

“If you luv Walking Dead, don’t let DISH Network keep it from 14 million fans. Join the Zombie swarm (link).”

This lets me be a part, keeps the focus on the show I have an affinity for, and  drives me to deeper content as a collective action.

The thrid problem is hardly that simply because I dont know what they have done to market this effort to the right people. But I hope that are using Facebook’s Connections Analysis Tool (CAT) and other targeting efforts to deliver stories with clear calls-to-action to people who are fams of the shows, live in Dish customer regions, have affinity for similar programming, are big TV lovers and so forth. They could run this more as an advocacy program and less like a corporate issue deserving of a newspaper ad and, in this case, a cool video wth a mcirosite support.

Half a job done, I think.

But wait, then there is the response from Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, not much a fan of AMC programs. He essentially recommends that we just watch our video programs through iTunes. Not sure what kind of advice that is from someone who runs a satellite network:

“He was also dismissive of AMC which has acclaimed series includingMad Men and Breaking Bad. “They’re critically acclaimed but not viewed as much by our audience”, he says. “And our customers can go to iTunes and get Mad Menthe same time it’s on. We could pay the entire iTunes bill and it would be cheaper.”