By Mandi Bierly
Updated September 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Kris Connor/Getty Images

At an event today in New York City, DISH Network CEO Joseph Clayton announced that DISH will host a televised “War of the Words” between Glenn Beck, whose channel TheBlaze launched Sept. 12 exclusively on DISH, and Current TV’s Eliot Spitzer in Denver on Oct. 2 — the night before the first presidential debate is held there. Beck and Spitzer were on-hand, standing in a mock boxing ring, in their respective blue and red corners, but there were no oratorical fireworks. That is, until Clayton (pictured, right) took the opportunity to address some of DISH’s own disputes.

Asked if DISH’s 14 million subscribers would be seeing AMC Networks (including AMC, WE, IFC, and Sundance), which they’ve been without since July 1, anytime soon, Clayton told reporters, “Not that I’m aware of.” While AMC has argued the feud is really about a breach of contract suit it has against DISH over dropped VOOM HD channels with a Sept. 19 court date — Clayton insists the fundamental issue is DISH’s core rural subscribers not wanting to pay for channels they don’t watch. “We would be amenable to looking at AMC, a channel that resonates with our total customer base, but not with all the hang-ons,” Clayton told EW. “Until we have a better alternative with not having to drag a lot of stuff with it, we don’t see anything on the near horizon. [But] never say never.”

While DISH has been working with customers who miss their AMC shows, offering Roku and/or statement credits to compensate for having to purchase episodes on Amazon Instant Video or iTunes, Clayton says that some of DISH’s core rural subscribers are probably happier. AMC’s movies were performing better than Mad Men on DISH, which filled AMC’s slot on the dial with HDNet Movies. “Walking Dead, I’m tellin’ ya, in the South, that plays. It’s filmed in Georgia. I can even recognize the landscape,” Clayton told EW. “Mad Men doesn’t play to our basic core consumer. Breaking Bad is about a [meth-selling] teacher, this doesn’t play with mainstream America. But that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.” Clayton said DISH may talk about how many subscribers it’s lost as a result of the dispute during its end-of-third-quarter call with analysts. “But it hasn’t a debilitating effect on our business,” he said.

Clayton also addressed comments made yesterday by CBS honcho Les Moonves, who threatened to pull CBS from DISH if DISH’s new AutoHop DVR technology — which allows viewers to skip ads when playing back primetime CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox programs recorded with Dish’s PrimeTime Anytime feature — continues to exist. Those networks are in an ongoing legal dispute with DISH, with the next step being a Sept. 21 hearing in Los Angeles on Fox’s request for a preliminary injunction.

“They would be well-advised to tune into the consumer. Give the customer choice and control. Give the customer a better experience and everybody wins. We all win. The fast-forward button didn’t kill the television business. Hulu didn’t kill the television business. Nor did the VCR kill TV,” Clayton told reporters. Asked if he’d give Moonves a similar ultimatum, Clayton said, “I think there should be a discussion, and I think that we should both put what consumers want at the top of the priority list [and] not to try embrace the past, ignore technology, and ignore what the consumer wants. How many people in this room skip commercials?” he asked. “I know it’s sinful. I mean, come on. Come on. You do. Do you want somebody telling you that you can’t skip commercials in the privacy of your own home? Are you kiddin’ me? Come on. I don’t know how the courts will rule on this, but I know in the court of public opinion, we’ve already won this one.” While Clayton left the door open to modifying AutoHop more so it’s a win for everyone, he told EW, “Whatever happens, we’re gonna appeal. Something like this might even go to the Supreme Court, who knows? The Betamax decision did. And they fought it just as hard.”

Beck interjected his two cents, arguing that networks, including his, will need to get with the times. “Look, if commercials go out, well then everybody here is out of business because you won’t be able to create content for network television. So they’re important. But they don’t work the way they did in 1955. It’s not 1950s anymore. It’s not even the same century anymore. It has to be innovative. [DISH is] doing the technology; it’s up to us as content creators to come up with a way to pay for my content,” he told reporters. “We do it through subscriptions. But we also do it through advertising. You’ll see on Blaze new kinds of advertising, like in the next year or two, we are going to reinvent the way commercials are done because [DISH’s] technology is going to change the world. You’re not gonna stop it.”

Viewers may love the ability to skip commercials, but they don’t necessarily appreciate overt product placement (or integrated brand marketing) in their shows. “I think that is at least being a little creative — putting the messaging into the program. That’s been done, some successfully, some not,” Clayton told EW. But he prefers to pitch the idea of commercials being even more targeted. “I’ve got five kids. They’re all teenagers, so I might look for an SUV that’d be safe for my kids to drive to school. I would not fast-forward through that ad. I would want to watch that. If I had really young kids and they’re in diapers, I’d maybe watch a Pampers ad,” he said. “I believe that we should, as an industry, target our advertising. That way, your spend is more focused and your results are greater. So that’s all I’m sayin’. But they don’t want to think about it. It’s same-old, same-old for the last 20 years, and that model doesn’t work…. The old model has to be modified. That I’m confident of. I think in a quiet room, they may tell you the same thing, they just don’t know how to do it yet.”

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