Zombie craze could bite into cable


By Erica Batten. A giant cable TV battle is playing out right in our own backyard as Mooresville-based MI-Connection, like dozens of locally-owned providers nationwide, negotiates with AMC Networks for renewal of their network carriage agreement.

Small cable companies are crying foul when it comes to proposed fees, saying AMC Networks, which includes AMC, WE-TV and the Independent Film Channel, is taking advantage of the zombie craze surrounding its most popular show, “The Walking Dead,” hiking fees by 200 percent or more.

While rate increases are expected, the normal hike is between 1 and 8 percent, said Ellen Baker, director of marketing and public relations at MI-Connection. They are restricted from talking about specific rates, but MI-Connection says AMCN is demanding a rate increase of 247 percent.  MI-Connection serves customers in Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville.

“One industry theory on the huge rate increase demands placed on cable companies is that it’s due to AMC’s declining ad revenues,” Baker said.  “With DVD and other over-the-top ways of viewing programming, ad revenues have declined.”

Season six begins next month

AMCN has posted crawls during “The Walking Dead,” warning cable customers that the second half of season six, set to begin in February, might not be available if their local providers don’t renew contracts with AMCN. The company employed similar tactics in its 2014 negotiations with DirecTV, using commercial breaks to urge customers to put pressure on the provider.

“AMC Networks owns AMC, whose only current hit show, ‘The Walking Dead,’ is extremely popular,” said David Auger, CEO of MI-Connection.  “However, in order to offer AMC, they are requiring us to carry the lesser-viewed networks WE-TV, Sundance Channel, and IFC on our basic tier, which limits our ability to expand broadband capacity.”

While carrying extra networks may indeed limit broadband capacity, Auger’s claim that “The Walking Dead” is AMC’s only hit may be debatable.

Live viewers

“The Walking Dead” is the most popular show in U.S. cable TV history—the Season 6 premiere drew 19.5 million live viewers—but the network clearly has a diverse plan for success.  In 2015, AMC was the only cable or broadcast network with two Primetime Emmy nominees for Outstanding Drama Series, neither of which was “The Walking Dead.”

Both “Mad Men” and “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” spinoff that debuted earlier this year, earned nominations; Netflix also had two.  For total nominations in this category, AMC trails only the broadcast networks, which have been around much longer.

But even if AMC is offering a valuable product, cable providers aren’t always willing to pay.

“Our goal is to protect customers from significant programming fee increases,” said Auger.  “We pay networks a fee per channel per month per customer.  But when huge companies such as AMC Networks demand an unprecedented increase in monthly fees, we believe it’s our responsibility to take a stand.”

Some local cable providers are even willing to help customers “shave the cord,” the industry term for choosing smaller cable packages.  Kristi Ramsey of TDS Telecommunications in Wisconsin said she will help customers find new episodes, which are often available within 24 hours, using streaming services on Google Play, Amazon, and AMC’s own website.

And because local providers often offer internet as well as cable television services, they won’t necessarily lose customers who do choose to shave, or even cut, the cable-TV cord.


One Response to “Zombie craze could bite into cable”

  1. Ler’m walk—-want be missed.

    Posted by Blakely | January 27, 2016, 8:52 pm

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