American Cable Association members turned up the heat in the carriage dispute between AMC Networks and small operators, with 228 members of the small cable lobbying organization signing a letter to the Federal Communications Commission outlining what it says are the networks “unfair” practices.
AMC Networks, home to AMC, IFC, WeTV, Sundance, BBC America (home of Doctor Who, pictured) and BBC World News, is currently in negotiations to renew its carriage agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative. But the NCTC, which has mostly small cable companies as members, has complained that AMC is forcing operators to pay high prices for the channels and requires that they buy its full suite of networks.
The letter appears to be a follow-up to a Dec. 11 meeting of several NCTC member companies with the FCC to discuss the challenges small operators face with programmers.
The ACA document reiterates many of the NCTC’s complaints – that AMC is asking for rates that are twice that of which they charge other operators, that the network refuses to release unbundled rates for channels and thatthey are requiring that operators pay based on all of their subscribers, not just those who can receive the service. In addition, the ACA members claim AMC has removed the cue tones from select operators prohibiting them from inserting advertising during the network’s most popular show.
“These unfair and deceptive practices harm consumers because they leave small operators with an ‘overpay or drop’ dilemma,” the ACA members said in the letter. “As a result of AMCN’s pricing and carriage requirements, many of the undersigned are left with no other choice than to discontinue carrying the AMCN services affecting millions of subscribers throughout the United States. Among those who cannot drop, their customers will be left with more expensive and bloated basic tiers of service.”
Already the NCTC said about 70 member companies representing around 800,000 customers have informed their subscribers that they are dropping the network. The NCTC’s deal with AMC expires on Dec. 31, so there is still time to work out a deal.
The battle with AMC has been brewing for at least a month, when the network began running crawls on its AMC channel during its popular show, The Walking Dead. At the time, several smaller operators complained that the network was engaging in scare tactics to frighten viewers into switching providers for fear they would miss out on the show. At the time, people familiar with the network said that AMC’s last NCTC agreement was reached eight years ago and that the programmer was merely trying to get NCTC members in line with what other distributors were paying.
"We have extraordinarily high regard for the NCTC and for its members,” AMC said in an earlier statement. “We have long supported smaller cable operators, and the particular challenges and considerations that they face in the service of their markets. We will continue to endeavor to do everything we can to make them successful.”
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