A&E employees received a letter Saturday April 27th from the President of A+E Networks Group, Paul Buccieri, warning that Lifetime, History and A&E Networks may go dark on Tuesday. This came due to Buccieri’s accusation that AT&T, who now owns DirecTV and WarnerMedia, were undergoing anti-competitive behavior, leading to a standoff in a new carriage deal with a deadline of April 30th. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Buccieri’s letter to A&E Networks Group employees stated that, “Having recently acquired WarnerMedia, AT&T appears intent on using their new position to gain an unfair advantage for their own channels.”
Additionally, an A&E corporate video also warned that “AT&T DirecTV customers may never experience our stories again,” encouraging DirecTV customers to “let your voice be heard” by going online or calling to gain more information regarding the carriage dispute.
This came after Viacom accused AT&T of anti-competitive behavior in prior carriage talks, during which AT&T-DIRECTV claimed they might drop MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon channels for DirecTV subscribers. According to Deadline, Viacom was able to come to an agreement with AT&T, but not without much difficulty. NFL Network and RedZone Channel have already been removed from AT&T’s U-verse and DirecTV Now due to a separate carriage dispute, according to THR, making the threat more of a reality.
The U.S. courts were even skeptical of allowing the AT&T and Time Warner merger, with the Department of Justice arguing that there would be much bargaining leverage, as CNN, TBS and TNT would also come under AT&T. However, it was allowed, and WarnerMedia came into existence after the merger since the government couldn’t find substantial evidence that AT&T would use its control over CNN, TBS and TNT as leverage that would prove harmful to the marketplace. Buccieri is now claiming otherwise, stating in his letter that “Millions of households could be impacted and deprived of their favorite programming if AT&T does not carry our networks on their platforms.”
Although Buccieri did not disclose details regarding the carriage battle, it seems to be caused by carriage fees, with AT&T holding the reins in negotiations. According to Buccieri, he only wants “fair market terms.” On the other hand, AT&T released a statement claiming that “We’re disappointed to see A&E put our customers in the middle of their negotiations. We are on the side of customer choice and value and want to keep these channels in our customers’ lineups. We hope to avoid any interruption to these channels that some of our customers care about. Our goal is always to deliver the content our customers want at a value that also makes sense to them. We’ve always fought to get the best deal for our customers, delivering the content they want at a great value. We’ll continue to fight for that here.”
Concerning AT&T’s reasoning, the company holds a debt of $171 billion, with a net cash of $40 billion, due to its acquisition of Time Warner. Therefore, its desire to cut carriage fees is most likely due to the desire to cut down this debt. In fact, the company has lost 83,000 DirecTV Now subscribers according to THR.
Below is Buccieri’s letter in full:
Sorry to interrupt your weekend, but, I wanted you to hear this from me directly.
Every day, thanks to your creativity, talent and dedication, our networks deliver some of the best programming on television and serve audiences in unique and thoughtful ways. Whether it’s giving women a voice like the recent Surviving R. Kelly; building transparency around law enforcement through Live PD or any number of the groundbreaking HISTORY series—like The Curse of Oak Island or Project Blue Book—the A+E Networks brand of storytelling is distinctive for our viewers. Consumers have more options than ever, and they choose us by the millions because they find programming and community around our content that is meaningful and original.
It is a privilege to create content for our viewers. It is our passion. It is also our business. As a business, content has value. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders to get equitable value for our content, for your efforts and the creative community. Now more than ever, we must protect the value of creativity and content. Most of all, we owe it to our viewers to ensure we are here for them, investing in the programming they love and rely on us for.
Running our business the right way requires negotiating fair deals with distributors that deliver our programming into viewers’ homes. We have done this without our portfolio being removed from any distributor’s platforms. Few of our peers can make the same claim.
Right now, we are in the midst of one such negotiation with AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, and with our contract deadline approaching, we are still far apart from reaching a deal. While I have respect for them and our long-standing relationship, AT&T has not demonstrated a willingness to negotiate reasonably. The deal we are seeking is based on the same fair market terms that have allowed us to reach deals with numerous other providers. AT&T simply has not yet demonstrated that they recognize the value of our programming and the high regard we have for our viewers – including AT&T’s own customers.
Having recently acquired WarnerMedia, AT&T appears intent on using their new position to gain an unfair advantage for their own channels. Many, including the U.S. Department of Justice, were concerned that AT&T would have the ability and incentive to discriminate against programmers like A+E Networks and others like us. It seems that concern has become a reality.
Millions of households could be impacted and deprived of their favorite programming if AT&T does not carry our networks on their platforms. Therefore, we will soon start communicating with all of our stakeholders about this situation, including our viewers.
For the last 35 years, the A+E Networks brands have played a significant and influential role in American popular culture — from the vital perspective found on HISTORY, to the ever enduring and iconic Lifetime movie to reimagining reality and reinventing live storytelling on A&E. We remain hopeful that, at the end of the day, AT&T’s focus like ours will put their consumers first.
I realize that many of you, as well as your families and friends, may be AT&T or DIRECTV subscribers. Please feel free to share a link to http://www.keepmychannels.com, which will be updated with relevant news and information.
We will continue to keep you apprised of any updates. In the meantime, the executive team and I ask that everyone remain laser focused on doing what you do best: delivering amazing stories, told with the kind of heart and passion that is definitively A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime and all of A+E Networks.