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2015 Ends Contentiously For NCTC, AMC Networks

As the year wound to a close and all eyes prepared to focus on a ball dropping in New York, industry watchers at press time were fixed on another annual ritual — the potential dropping of TV stations and cable channels in ongoing carriage disputes.

The most high-profile impasse is between AMC Networks and the National Cable Television Cooperative. That deal could be done by the time this edition goes to press, but one NCTC member — Alaska cable operator General Communication Inc. — has said that it will drop AMC Networks services AMC, WE tv and IFC as of Jan. 1. The collective increase for the AMC outlets would hike the license fee by 200%, GCI said. Separately, GCI said it would drop Spanish-language broadcaster Univision on Jan. 1, also due to rate increases. Pop and Reelz also are coming off, GCI said.

GCI was advising viewers who wanted to watch AMC shows like The Walking Dead or otherwise supplement their viewing after AMC and Univision are dropped to buy content using the Vudu app via GCI’s TiVo settops, or explore streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Video. It was even offering its TiVo customers a $50 gift card to “encourage them” to explore thousands of hours of video available via the TiVo portal.

The Walking Dead’s next season doesn’t begin until February, so GCI was sounding like dropping AMC was not a tactical threat.

GCI may not be the only one to break ranks if the NCTC winds up striking a deal with AMC. NCTC CEO Rich Fickle said that after the co-op filed complaints with the FCC over some of AMC’s tactics, it had a productive day of discussions with the programmer in New York and continued conversations.

“Have we solved the Rubik’s Cube on this one?” Fickle said. “No we have not. We’re still trying to figure out how to make this work for our members.”

Fickle warned that a large number of his members believe “at the current set of terms, that either for economic or for balance reasons, they could not enter into an agreement with AMC.”

“They just can’t do it,” he said.

That could mean 1 million subscribers or more losing access to the channels via cable.

Separately, Cable One and Nexstar Broadcasting also remained at odds at press time. Affected Nexstar stations were still telling the MSO’s customers that they could lose access as of midnight Dec. 31, 2015, and suggesting they could switch to Dish Network or DirecTV to continue getting the stations after that.

Stations involved are ABC affiliate WATNTV in Memphis, Tenn.; and NBC affiliates KSNF-TV in Joplin, Mo.; KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas; and KTAL-TV in Shreveport, La.

A survey of other MSOs indicated mostly quiet encounters on the retransmission front. Cox Communications, for example, indicated it was facing retransmission deals affecting most of its markets as the year drew to a close, but the MSO has a history of quietly coming to terms with relatively few service interruptions.

Time Warner Cable also completed its retrans deals by year-end. Suddenlink Communications had a few deals coming up at year-end but was optimistic it would come to terms.

Broadcasting & Cable business editor Jon Lafayette contributed to this report.