A&E Networks Group President Paul Buccieri is accusing Dallas-based AT&T of anti-competitive behavior in a standoff that could see the cable channels go dark for DirecTV customers.
The deadline for a new deal between DirecTV and A&E Networks Group, which owns channels Lifetime, The History Channel and A&E, is April 30. The channels could go dark for customers as early as midnight today.
A&E went as far as to release a corporate video in which it states, “AT&T DirecTV customers may never experience our stories again.”
“Having recently acquired WarnerMedia, AT&T appears intent on using their new position to gain an unfair advantage for their own channels,” Buccieri said in an internal message obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
Buccieri didn’t reveal details of it’s standoff with AT&T, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but said “We remain hopeful that, at the end of the day, AT&T’s focus like ours will put their consumers first.”
In a statement, AT&T said:
“We’re on the side of choice and value for our customers, and we want to keep History, A&E, and Lifetime in your TV lineup. We’re disappointed to see A&E Networks put you into the middle of negotiations, but we hope to avoid any interruption to their channels.”
Viacom had a similar dispute with AT&T in March, which had the potential to leave viewers without channels such as MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Viacom even enlisted Trevor Noah to place pressure on the company during negotiations in order to avoid a content blackout.
AT&T also dropped NFL Network from DirecTV Now and U-verse TV earlier in April after carriage deals expired. Last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company expected to remain the exclusive carrier of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Competitors have long worried what AT&T’s merger with Time Warner would mean for content negotiations once the company acquired such a large carrier of original programming.
The Justice Department argued during its court fight with AT&T that the Time Warner acquisition would give the company too much bargaining leverage over deals with affiliate channels.
One of the government’s witnesses at the time, an executive from Sling TV, argued the company could strong-arm rivals and force channels to “go dark.”
AT&T pushed back, contending it too would suffer if it cut off cable networks or limited distribution of the content it now owns. U.S. courts eventually allowed the merger.
AT&T is the largest pay-TV company in the country with 22.4 million traditional TV customers. Last week, the company reported it lost more than half a million TV subscribers while maintaining that it was still on track to meet its goals.
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