AMC is bringing something back from the dead, and it’s not just zombies. The network and satellite television provider DirecTV are at it again, with AMC warning that customers of the satellite company risk missing out on the new season of “The Walking Dead” if a new contract is not negotiated between the companies. However, AMC might be sounding the alarm a bit too early in this complicated dispute.
Fans of “The Walking Dead” (and there lots of them; more than 17 million people watched the Season 5 premiere) were treated to a bonus scare Sunday, during the premiere of episode 4 of the current season. Promos aired during the episode warned DirecTV customers that as a result of contract disputes, the second half of the “Walking Dead” Season 5 might be blacked out. The promo campaign was accompanied by a website detailing everything DirecTV viewers stand to miss out on if AMC Networks (AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance TV, WE TV) and the satellite provider do not reach an agreement, including coming seasons of “Mad Men,” “Better Call Saul” and “Portlandia.”
AMC released a statement about the dispute, saying: “DirecTV's agreement to carry AMC expires midway through the current season of 'The Walking Dead.' We've had a long, successful partnership with DirecTV and have great respect for their management team and the business they've built. Our goal is to continue our partnership, by renewing our agreement and extending our business relationship well into the future. Unfortunately, DirecTV has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, which leaves us to doubt whether a timely renewal is possible. In addition, DirecTV is in violation of our current agreement, and it has dropped AMC in Latin America. We hope to finalize a new agreement quickly, but in the meantime, we think it is important to alert DirecTV customers who care about ‘The Walking Dead’ that their ability to watch the show on DirecTV is at risk."
AMC may be pressing the panic button too soon. While the contract between AMC and DirecTV does expire in the middle of “The Walking Dead’s” Season 5, it falls in the middle of a mid-season break. The current contract ensures DirecTV customers every “Walking Dead” episode through the end of 2014, and the first episode that would be affected is not to air until Feb. 8, 2015, meaning AMC and DirecTV have three months to work out a new deal before “Walking Dead” fans have to worry. Furthermore, AMC Networks’ other flagship shows would not be in danger until later. (“Mad Men” is not set to return until next spring; “Better Call Saul” does not premiere until February 2015). AMC’s website does not mention the date the potential blackout would take effect.
Contract negotiations between cable or satellite providers and networks are routine, but this level of publicity is unusual. While neither side would disclose the details of their dispute, a website created by DirecTV in response to AMC’s campaign features a video message from company CEO Mike White, where he broadly implies that when the satellite provider stands its ground in these disputes it is often to prevent price hikes demanded by the networks that would be passed on to the consumers.
In the video White says, “When local broadcast stations, sports networks, and other channels want to be paid more for the same channels you already have, we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the impact to your monthly bill.”
However, with nearly $2 billion in profit in the first quarter of 2014 alone, DirecTV’s stance as warriors for consumer justice is questionable. AMC, on the other hand, has an intense fan base on its side that it seems willing to leverage against DirecTV with the threat of blackout, despite the network’s motives also, most likely, being solely profit. The bottom line here is that in the battle between the two companies, consumers lose whether by loss of content to blackout or by increased monthly bills.
This is not the first time AMC has been here. In 2012 due to a lawsuit against DISH, AMC was blacked out for nearly three months on the satellite provider. The matter was settled, though, before the final season of the popular AMC drama “Breaking Bad,” a factor that without a doubt put public relations pressure on DISH.
In this case, DirecTV is calling out AMC for what it considers scare tactics, saying in a statement to its customers, "You can rest easy because you will not miss any of the new season of ‘The Walking Dead’ or any other shows. AMC Networks is contractually obligated to provide you its programming through the next few months, at which point, we intend to renew our AMC partnership at a price that’s fair for our customers. We apologize for AMC needlessly attempting to confuse and upset our customers."
DirecTV is probably right. An agreement will likely be reached before the February midseason premiere of “The Walking Dead,” and AMC’s apocalyptic rhetoric about the apocalyptic show is probably premature. Consumers caught in the middle of the feud can enjoy “The Walking Dead” for the rest of the year knowing the only things they need fear are on screen.
What side are you on in the AMC/DirecTV debate? Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.