AMC Networks Cable Carriage Talks Near Deadline Ahead of 'The Walking Dead' Season Finale
UPDATED: An agreement with Suddenlink, a cable operator with 1.4 million subscribers, ends this week, just ahead of the hit show's last episode of season two.
NEW YORK - Will a cable operator with 1.4 million subscribers in such states as Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia lose the right to carry cable network AMC right before the season finale of The Walking Dead this coming Sunday?
Cable channel group AMC Networks, controlled by the Dolan family, is engaged in a carriage fee dispute with cable operator Suddenlink Communications, the seventh largest in the U.S., that "could result in the signal being removed" when the partners' current contract expires at midnight on Wednesday, Davenport & Co. analyst Michael Morris said in a report on Monday. "Note that the "go-dark" date is just days before the season finale of The Walking Dead, which is the highest rated drama on cable television."
He added: "This is a big week for AMC Networks" given that it also reports its fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday.
The latest carriage dispute may involve smaller players than previous showdowns between the likes of News Corp./Fox and Cablevision, but it "appears to be following a typical pattern, with Suddenlink claiming AMC is making outrageous fee increase requests, while AMC highlights the value that its networks deliver," Morris said.
He said that his affiliate growth expectations for AMC Networks are modest at 3.5 percent estimated annual growth through 2015. "We believe that a successful renegotiation with Suddenlink would likely represent upside to our estimates although the magnitude is uncertain given that 1) terms are typically undisclosed and 2) Suddenlink represents less than two percent of total AMC network households," Morris concluded.
AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan has said that AMC is "way underpriced" in current carriage deals.
Suddenlink late last week asked its subscribers to contact AMC Networks and express their concerns. "The owners of AMC Network want a near 50 percent increase over what they were paid last year, and a greater than 100 percent increase in annual payments by the end of their new proposed contract," Suddenlink said. "Those demands are outrageous and unfair to Suddenlink customers. New York City-based AMC Networks claims it needs these increases to please Wall Street expectations. These demands are outrageous anytime, let alone in this economy." The firm said it would continue negotiating with the cable networks firm.
"We are trying to reach a fair agreement with Suddenlink that will keep AMC's The Walking Dead and the upcoming seasons of Mad Men and The Killing available to Suddenlink customers," AMC Networks said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Suddenlink's proposal does not adequately acknowledge AMC's position as a top tier network, with some of the most popular shows on television including The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Breaking Bad."
It added: "We've had a terrific relationship with Suddenlink for many years and are proud of the value we've created for them with our slate of acclaimed original series. We're hopeful that we'll reach an agreement with Suddenlink that recognizes the popularity of our programming with consumers, but we believe that we owe it to our loyal viewers to inform them of the potential loss of AMC as well as IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv."