Hallmark Hall of Flame: Dispute with AT&T U-Verse nears deadline

Martha It might not require the most personal of carriage-dispute condolences, but it does make for an unpleasant Hallmark card.

Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel are the latest cablers to go down to the wire with AT&T U-Verse, with the distributor possibly dropping the channels at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday if the parties can’t agree to terms on a new deal.

Hallmark today described negotiations “at a standstill,” though history tells us that a resolution will be achieved. Most recently, AT&T went to the mat with Rainbow Media channels AMC, IFC and WeTV before reaching an agreement.

“We hope AT&T will recognize the extraordinary value of our channels and renew the carriage agreement,” said Hallmark Channels prexy and CEO Bill Abbott. “At the present time, however, talks are not progressing, and it is looking more likely that Hallmark Channels will be dropped from AT&T.”

One difference in these talks is that Rainbow not only had the corporate heft of Cablevision behind it, but also the impending season premiere of culturally zesty “Mad Men” as a negotiating tool. Hallmark’s Crown Media backers don’t quite pack the same power, and arguably its biggest programming weapon — the premiere of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s eight-hour daytime lifestyle programming block on the network, including “The Martha Stewart Show” — won’t come until Sept. 13.

Nevertheless, Hallmark is not to be dismissed lightly, and it is sure to have fans ringing AT&T to say how dissatisfied they’ll be if the channels is dropped.

AT&T U-Verse services approximately 2.3 million of Hallmark’s audience of 90 million.

Update: AT&T issued its own statement this morning, predictably citing “Crown Media’s unreasonable and inflexible demands” and AT&T’s own efforts to keep the channels “at a fair price for its customers.”

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