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TDS Telecom Drops AMC Networks

AMC Networks Upfront
(Image credit: AMC Networks)

TDS Telecom, despite restarting carriage talks earlier this week, said Friday that it failed to reach an agreement with AMC Networks and has dropped the programmer’s channels from its lineup.

TDS had told customers earlier this month that it would drop the AMC Networks channels -- AMC, BBC America, BBC World News, IFC, Sundance TV and WE TV -- on June 10 in part because of the programmer’s practice of shifting original programming to its streaming service AMC Plus. But talks with the network resumed on June 8. 

In an email message Friday (June 11), TDS Telecom director of external affairs & communications Kit Beyer said a deal with the channels couldn’t be reached, but added if the programmer were to strike a favorable deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative, the buying group for about 700 small cable operators across the country, it may reconsider. TDS is a member of NCTC.

“TDS dropped AMC Network channels as planned and communicated to our customers,”  Beyer said in an email message.  “If AMC comes back to NCTC members that no longer carry the network’s channels and offer lower rates or more flexible package options, creating value for consumers in this new environment of streaming services, TDS would review the terms and relaunch the network.”

According to sources in the cable financial community, AMC Networks completed a comprehensive carriage agreement with the NCTC within the past few months. That deal included more than 600 NCTC members with several million customers. The systems that opted out of that deal accounted for less than 150,000 customers, those same sources said.  

TDS Telecom is part of publicly traded Telephone & Data Systems, and provides TV, broadband and phone service to about 1.2 million customers in 32 states across the country and 280,000 cable subscribers in Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Colorado, Utah and Oregon (after its purchases of Crestview Cable in 2017 and Bend Broadband in 2014). The AMC Networks negotiation affects "all TDS and Bend Broadband channel lineups," the company said.

 “We value our relationships with all of our distribution partners and appreciate the ability to bring our popular and critically acclaimed content to viewers and fans through these longstanding and mutually beneficial relationships,” AMC Networks said in a statement. “We are currently looking forward to the premiere of an extended final season of The Walking Dead in August, the continuing expansion of The Walking Dead universe with new shows and returning series like Better Call Saul, Killing Eve, Doctor Who, the best nature programming in the world and other highly anticipated new series." 

AMC Networks launched AMC Plus in June 2020, and the service is available through partners like Comcast, AT&T/DirecTV and Dish Network, as well as via Roku, Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube TV and others. AMC said it had more than six million subscribers to all of its streaming services -- AMC Plus  Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and ALLBLK -- at the end of 2020 and was on track to finish 2021 with 9 million streaming customers. Suggested pricing for AMC Plus through distributors like Comcast and Dish is $6.99 per month, and $8.99 per month through Apple, Amazon and Roku.

Subscribers to the streaming service have early access to some original shows like like Gangs of London and Kevin Can F**k Himself, which were available to AMC Plus customers one week before they debuted on the linear channel. But unlike other streamers, the AMC Plus service says it doesn’t hold back any programming indefinitely from its linear channels.

Other smaller operators have expressed concern over the increasing shift of original programming from linear to streaming offerings. Conway, Arkansas operator Conway TV dropped AMC on June 10, and Massillon, Ohio-based MCTV shed the channels on June 11.

"We did drop AMC effective this morning," MCTV president Katherine Gessner said in an email message Friday. "It was a combination of declining viewership and availability of programming elsewhere on other linear channels and platforms (including on AMC+) that factored in to our decision."

Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.