AMC Uses ‘Walking Dead’ Fans as Weapon in DirecTV Talks

AMC Networks Inc. used last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” the most popular drama on cable television, to warn DirecTV subscribers they could miss future episodes because of a contract dispute.

Onscreen prompts led DirecTV viewers to a website that urged them to “make your voice heard.” AMC’s other cable channels, IFC, Sundance Channel and WEtv, could also go dark when the current deal expires at year-end, according to Georgia Juvelis, an AMC spokeswoman.

“DirecTV’s agreement to carry AMC expires midway through the current season of ‘The Walking Dead,’” AMC said in a statement. “DirecTV has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, which leaves us to doubt whether a timely renewal is possible.”

“The Walking Dead,” about a zombie apocalypse, is the biggest hit in the history of New York-based AMC, drawing 17.3 million viewers in its fifth-season premiere last month. That makes it a weapon for the network in programming negotiations with pay-TV carriers like DirecTV, the largest satellite service with 20.2 million subscribers.

The network also accused DirecTV of violating an agreement by dropping the AMC channel in Latin America.

In a statement, DirecTV played down the possibility of a disruption and said the current season of “Walking Dead” will be finished before the contract runs out.

“DirecTV customers will not miss any of this year’s new season of ‘The Walking Dead’ or any other shows,” Robert Mercer, a spokesman for the satellite carrier, said in a statement. “AMC is contractually obligated to provide all of its programming for several more months and we intend to renew our AMC partnership at a price that’s fair to our customers.”

The season premiere of “The Walking Dead” attracted 11 million of viewers in the 18-to-49 age group coveted by advertisers. AMC will air new episodes until Nov. 30. The show then takes a break and will return in February. AMC considers these episodes part of the same season.

Television networks often spar with pay-TV operators in public, each trying to gain an edge in contract-renewal talks that sometimes deprive customers of their favorite shows. Subscribers to Dish Network Corp. lost Time Warner Inc.’s CNN and Cartoon Network last month because of a stalemate between the parties.

AMC recently acquired a 49.9 percent stake in BBC America to bolster its arsenal for such talks. DirecTV, based in El Segundo, California, is waiting for regulatory approval of its $48.5 billion sale to AT&T Inc.

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