AMC Warns MCTV Viewers of Possible Carriage Blackout

AMC Networks began notifying MCTV customers in Ohio on Sunday night that they might lose access to programming like zombie drama The Walking Dead if it doesn’t reach a carriage deal with the cable operator, a practice MCTV chief Bob Gessner said were nothing but scare tactics to try to force a deal.

AMC’s deal with MCTV doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, and like its other content counterparts, has been notifying viewers that it could lose access to the network if it doesn’t sign a deal with the cable operator by the Dec. 31 deadline.

But MCTV believes the network is trying to make viewers believe they could lose the channel soon instead of in more than a month.

The practice has become common in recent years, with practically every network during carriage renewal time running ads and message crawls during their most popular shows that they may have to look at alternative providers if a deal isn’t reached. In the past, networks saved those announcements until closer to the agreement’s expiration date, but recently have let customers know of the possibility of a blackout further in advance.         

“AMC is actively trying to incite panic among our local viewers; trying to scare them into believing that they are at risk of losing their favorite shows,” Gessner said in a statement. “But what AMC failed to convey is the real story behind the crawls they ran in The Walking Dead last Sunday. Our customers are NOT at risk of losing AMC or WEtv prior to the December 31 deadline because AMC Networks must contractually provide the signals through this date.”

 “Let’s face it,” Gessner continued, “AMC is trying to scare viewers into helping AMC raise their rates. It’s pretty shameful to abuse your fans in that manner, but that’s the state of big media companies these days.”

AMC Networks, which also includes WeTV, Sundance and IFC, is actually negotiating with the National Cable Television Cooperative, a buying consortium of about 850 small and medium-sized cable companies. MCTV is a member of the NCTC.

Gesner added that AMC is demanding a “significant rate increase” as well as carriage of low-rated channels like BBC World News that its customers don’t watch.

"We are fully prepared to pay a fair price for the AMC programming our customers want, but when huge companies such as AMC Networks demand an unprecedented increase in its monthly fees, we believe it’s our responsibility to take a stand," added Gessner. "If they were really concerned about their viewers’ best interests, they would allow flexible carriage and charge a fee that is reasonably associated with the audience they draw.”

AMC last negotiated a carriage agreement with the NCTC about eight years ago. According to people familiar with the programmer, the rate increases are more to get the co-op in line with what other distributors are paying.  

“AMC has been a long-time partner of NCTC, and has created enormous value for NCTC members and their customers who enjoy our popular shows, including “The Walking Dead” (the #1 show on TV among adults 18-49), “Fear the Walking Dead,” (which recently became the biggest series premiere in cable TV history), “Better Call Saul,” and many more” AMC said in a statement. “While we are committed to continuing to negotiate with NCTC, we are informing our loyal viewers who are NCTC customers that they are at risk of losing access to their favorite AMC shows.”

MCTV, which has about 47,000 customers in Stark, Wayne, Summit, Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties in Ohio,  is negotiating the carriage agreement through the National Cable Television Cooperative a buying consortium of more than 850 small and medium-sized cable operators across the country. MCTV has started a website – for more information.