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A+E Networks Warns of Potential AT&T Blackout

A+E Networks is the latest programming conglomerate to tangle with AT&T over licencing fees, warning Saturday of a potential blackout on AT&T-owned platforms including DirecTv as the deadline to renew its carriage deal approaches in the next few days.

In a memo to A+E employees, A+E Networks Group president Paul Buccieri said that negotiations are ongoing with AT&T to keep the company’s networks -- including History, Lifetime and A&E -- on AT&T’s U-Verse, AT&T WatchTV, DirecTV and DirecTV Now platforms, but the parties “are still far apart from reaching a deal.”

The negotiations follow a similar licencing fee dispute in March between Viacom and AT&T, although those two parties were eventually able to reach a carriage deal.

RELATED: Viacom, AT&T Reach Carriage deal 

Buccieri intimated that AT&T is using its newfound position after the purchase of WarnerMedia to “gain an unfair advantage for their own channels which has helped create the current impasse.

“We remain hopeful that, at the end of the day, AT&T’s focus like ours will put their consumers first,” he said.


Below is the full Buccieri letter:

Dear Team,

Sorry to interrupt your weekend, but, I wanted you to hear this from me directly.

Every day, thanks to your creativity, talent and dedication, our networks deliver some of the best programming on television and serve audiences in unique and thoughtful ways.

Whether it’s giving women a voice like the recent Surviving R. Kelly; building transparency around law enforcement through Live PD or any number of the groundbreaking HISTORY series—like The Curse of Oak Island or Project Blue Book—the A+E Networks brand of storytelling is distinctive for our viewers. Consumers have more options than ever, and they choose us by the millions because they find programming and community around our content that is meaningful and original.

It is a privilege to create content for our viewers. It is our passion. It is also our business.

As a business, content has value. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders to get equitable value for our content, for your efforts and the creative community. Now more than ever, we must protect the value of creativity and content. Most of all, we owe it to our viewers to ensure we are here for them, investing in the programming they love and rely on us for.

Running our business the right way requires negotiating fair deals with distributors that deliver our programming into viewers’ homes. We have done this without our portfolio being removed from any distributor’s platforms. Few of our peers can make the same claim.

Right now, we are in the midst of one such negotiation with AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, and with our contract deadline approaching, we are still far apart from reaching a deal.

While I have respect for them and our long-standing relationship, AT&T has not demonstrated a willingness to negotiate reasonably. The deal we are seeking is based on the same fair market terms that have allowed us to reach deals with numerous other providers. AT&T simply has not yet demonstrated that they recognize the value of our programming and the high regard we have for our viewers – including AT&T’s own customers.

Having recently acquired WarnerMedia, AT&T appears intent on using their new position to gain an unfair advantage for their own channels. Many, including the U.S. Department of Justice, were concerned that AT&T would have the ability and incentive to discriminate against programmers like A+E Networks and others like us. It seems that concern has become a reality.

Millions of households could be impacted and deprived of their favorite programming if AT&T does not carry our networks on their platforms. Therefore, we will soon start communicating with all of our stakeholders about this situation, including our viewers.

For the last 35 years, the A+E Networks brands have played a significant and influential role in American popular culture -- from the vital perspective found on HISTORY, to the ever enduring and iconic Lifetime movie to reimagining reality and reinventing live storytelling on A&E. We remain hopeful that, at the end of the day, AT&T’s focus like ours will put their consumers first.

I realize that many of you, as well as your families and friends, may be AT&T or DIRECTV subscribers. Please feel free to share a link to, which will be updated with relevant news and information.

We will continue to keep you apprised of any updates. In the meantime, the executive team and I ask that everyone remain laser focused on doing what you do best: delivering amazing stories, told with the kind of heart and passion that is definitively A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime and all of A+E Networks. 

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.