News of AT&T carriage dispute on top of Dish feud hits company

Shares of AMC Networks fell sharply Thursday as distributors piled on with threats to drop the company’s channels.

The stock dropped nearly 5% during the trading day after AT&T threatened to yank flagship AMC and the company’s other nets this weekend in a dispute over rates as its contract expires June 30. In a separate dispute, satcaster Dish recently dropped AMC’s Sundance Channel and gave notice that it will black out AMC, IFC and We TV Saturday at midnight.

AMC says the Dish move, which would impact 10 million-11 million satellite subs, is not about rates but about Dish seeking leverage in pending litigation. The AT&T spat, over 4 million subscribers, is a traditional carriage battle. AMC, now with a handful of original hits like “The Walking Dead” and “Mad Men,” wants a degree of parity with other top cable nets whose fees are about double AMC’s.

“We are disappointed that, just days before the July 15 season premiere of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” we have not yet reached an agreement with AT&T that adequately reflects the popularity of our programming and AMC’s position as a top-tier network with acclaimed shows like ‘The Walking Dead,’ basic cable’s highest-rated scripted drama series,” AMC said in a statement Thursday.

“We have been consistently supportive partners of AT&T and are proud that our investment in original programming has provided so much value to all of our distribution partners. We hope AT&T will recognize this and quickly reach a fair agreement with us, so their viewers don’t lose out.”

AMC reiterated that the issue is “separate and distinct from the situation with Dish Networks, which has threatened to drop AMC Networks in retaliation for an unrelated lawsuit between the two companies.”

Dish insists it is yanking AMC because not enough of its subscribers watch its shows. The two companies are set to face off in a New York court Sept. 18, with AMC seeking $2.5 billion in damages over a breach of contract lawsuit around an old TV service called Voom.

AMC stock has been hard hit in recent weeks by the Dish development, although there’s a sense that networks could be restored after a trial or in the event of a settlement before then.

The disputes are also unfolding as the rhetoric between video providers and programmers heats up in a battle over rate increases as content costs rise.

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