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TDS Telecom Restarts Talks With AMC Networks After Threatening to Drop Networks Over Streaming Content

'Gangs of London'
(Image credit: AMC/Sky)

TDS Telecom, a Madison, Wisconsin-based mid-sized pay TV and broadband service provider, said it has restarted carriage negotiations with AMC Networks, just days after saying they would drop the programmer on June 10 because it is shifting original programming from its linear channels to its streaming service AMC Plus.

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.

TDS has been in talks with AMC Networks since April -- its original carriage agreement was scheduled to expire on May 1. While the pay TV company was granted an extension to continue offering AMC programming while negotiations continued, around June 2 they apparently have reached a stalemate.

In a blog post June 2, TDS said it will no longer carry the channels -- AMC, BBC America, We TV (Women’s Entertainment), BBC World News, IFC, and Sundance -- as of June 10. 

“As with every contract negotiation, TDS looks for a fair and reasonable agreement. AMC launched AMC Plus, a direct to consumer streaming service last year. AMC Plus customers receive exclusive AMC content and early access to favorite ‘best of AMC’ shows and acclaimed movies,” TDS said in the blog post. “TDS does not agree with AMC’s decision to move valued content from live TV distribution to distribution exclusively on their streaming service. Asking cable subscribers to pay more while the AMC Network carves out highly valued content and delivers less to cable subscribers is not fair or reasonable.”

But on June 8, TDS Telecom’s director of external affairs and communications Kit Beyer said talks have resumed. 

“Since TDS notified its customers that it would no longer carry the AMC Network, discussions have restarted with the network,” Beyer said in an email message. “TDS will continue to fight for fair rates and terms for our customers and will strive for a reasonable outcome.” 

Whether that improves the chances that TDS Telecom will  continue to carry the  channels is unclear. In earlier stages of negotiations with the programmer, TDS Telecom appeared to be equally concerned with high prices and programming only available on AMC Plus. 

AMC Networks did not return requests for comment. 

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 AMC plus subscribers at the end of 2020 and was on track to finish 2021 with 9 million streaming customers. AMC Plus is priced at about $8.99 per month.

TDS Telecom’s beef with the programmer is nothing new. Other providers have expressed disdain over networks that stream content at a price equal to or lesser than linear rates. But usually those tiffs get resolved.

Perhaps that will be the case here as well. But the idea that distributors, especially smaller ones that typically pay higher fees, are beginning to get upset that streaming offerings could cannibalize programming from linear channels that are currently paying the freight for programmers, is an issue that shouldn't be ignored. That streaming exclusive programming is becoming an increasingly popular practice among content companies could possibly pose problems in future negotiations, particularly with distributors that don't own content. 

Already MCTV, a small cable provider in Massillon, Ohio, said it would drop the AMC Networks channels on June 11. Conway, Arkansas-based operator Conway Corp. also has plans to drop the channels.

“After a thorough review of costs, viewership and availability of similar programming on our lineup AND on numerous streaming platforms, the decision was made to no longer carry AMC Networks,” MCTV said on its website. 

As a result, MCTV said the monthly rate for basic cable TV service would be reduced by $2, effective July 1. 

Conway TV, an electric, water, TV and telecom utility in Conway, Arkansas, said via Twitter on June 7  that it would drop the AMC channels on June 10. In addition, it is dropping Fusion TV on July 31. 

“We're committed to providing the community with quality TV programming at a competitive price, and these networks have increased their fees at an alarming rate that is unfair to our customers,” Conway TV said on its Twitter feed. 

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.