Barring a last-minute breakthrough in negotiations, Paragould Light, Water and Cable may cease to carry the American Movie Channel (AMC), and four other channels linked to it.
“The AMC contract expires at midnight tonight,” said utility Broadband Services Manager Marcus Dowdy to open the April 30 conference-call meeting of the utility’s Channel Selection Committee. “And unless we are able to negotiate a new contract with them, AMC, channel 41, will go dark,” he said.
At the same time, again barring a breakthrough, four other channels in the AMC channel package will likewise cease to be available for viewing, he said:
BBC America, channel 73
WeTV, channel 121
Sundance, channel 127
IFC (the Independent Film Channel), channel 128
The reason for the potentially failed negotiation, Dowdy said, is that given the expiration of the current contract, new terms sought by AMC appeared completely unacceptable.
“They are wanting double-digit [percentage] increases [in the per-subscriber prices],” he told the committee, “and really long contracts that we don’t feel are acceptable.”
As with nearly all channels available through PLWC, any programming costs per customer for given channels are passed along to the customer. So those increases would be reflected in the cable portion of the customer’s utility bill. “And we’re already losing abut 60 subscribers a month,” Dowdy said, “through people ‘cutting the cord.’”
Along those lines many providers, AMC included, are offering direct streaming services – effectively eliminating cable companies from the chain between providers and customers. AMC offers AMC Plus, which Dowdy said provided programming on the five channels directly to its customers as much as a week before those who receive it through cable providers like PLWC.
“And last time we negotiated with them,” Dowdy said, “The Walking Dead was extremely popular.” He said the show, carried on AMC, has fallen off in popularity, while viewership of AMC otherwise has also declined. In addition, channels like Sundance, which had previously been commercial-free, were now inserting commercials into the movies, reducing the appeal of such channels.
Dowdy explained to the committee that PLWC was not negotiating directly with AMC, but was instead allowing the 700-member National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to negotiate with AMC on its behalf.
“A lot of the smaller cable companies, municipal utilities are members of NCTC,” he said, “so NCTC brings several million subscribers to the table, for more clout [than just one company].”
Dowdy added that it was possible that negotiations between NCTC and AMC could see a 30-day extension of the current contract to enable more time to hammer out a final deal, but expressed little optimism such a deal would be acceptable to the utility.
“We haven’t seen the full contract,” he said, “just bits and pieces, but what we’ve seen makes it hard for us to accept.”
Therefore, Dowdy said, the utility was asking the Channel Selection Committee for authorization to drop AMC and the other four channels if the contract appeared “too hard for us to accept.”
The committee expressed support for the decision. “I wasn’t in favor of the last [increase],” said Mitchell Smith.
“It’s pretty clear-cut,” added Tom Walden. “They push people to streaming channels and hike the prices to us.”
Committee Chair Brian Osborn voted with Smith and Walden to approve the authorization 3-0. Committee member Reba Wessell was absent.