Rogers reaches agreement with AMC channel, home of 'Walking Dead'

TORONTO – Rogers subscribers who are fans of “The Walking Dead” can rest easy after the cable company struck a new deal that ensures the AMC channel will remain in its lineup.

The two sides signed a multi-year agreement Friday which included a high-definition feed of the channel to be launched before the end of the month.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

“We’re happy with the deal,” said David Purdy, senior vice-president of television content at Rogers (TSX:RCI.B).

The announcement brings a close to a dispute between the companies that came to a head earlier this week. Late Thursday, a contract which allowed Rogers to carry AMC’s channel expired, creating uncertainty over whether the signal for the channel would be shut off.

AMC launched an on-air and Internet campaign which told Rogers subscribers “You Have Lost The Walking Dead” or “Rogers Customers You May Lose The Walking Dead,” even though the channel had not disappeared from the Rogers lineup. The banner ads were linked to a website set up by AMC which urged fans to email and call Rogers to save the channel.

Throughout the negotiations, Rogers insisted that it had no plans to yank the signal for the channel, which is also home to “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.”

“The Walking Dead” is considered the most-watched show in U.S. cable television history.

The campaign caused some Rogers subscribers to complain, worried that Sunday night’s episode of the show wouldn’t be available on their cable packages. The new agreement ensures there will not be any programming interruptions.

“I think we were sort of surprised by the threat of the signal being pulled in the first place,” said Purdy.

“We’ve always had a fairly high perception of the value associated with AMC. From our perspective, we just kept on negotiating and we were confident we’d find common ground.”

He said there will be “no immediate impact” on cable bill prices.

“Programmers typically are looking for more revenue and our job is to fight on behalf of our customers for what we think is fair value,” said Purdy.

The new agreement also ensures that Rogers’ on Demand services will carry AMC programming sooner after its initial broadcast, though the company wasn’t specific on how much sooner.

This wasn’t the first time AMC had been embroiled in a conflict with cable and satellite providers.

Last summer, the channel grappled with U.S. carrier Dish Network pulling it from its lineup after a distribution agreement expired, and the two sides couldn’t settle on renegotiated fees.

After months of conflict, Dish and AMC reached a new distribution agreement, but Dish also decided to bump the channel into the hinterlands of its TV line-up in high 9,000 channels.

Meanwhile, a similar dispute has been playing out in the U.S. this week between carrier Cable One and AMC over its distribution contract.

A website sprung up that’s nearly identical to the one setup for Rogers. On the site, AMC told Cable One’s subscribers that they too could lose the channel.

Cable One has responded by saying that AMC is trying to hike the fees it charges the cable provider by 520 per cent. The company did not disclose how much it was paying for the channel under its previous agreement.

Over the past five years, AMC has morphed from a cable channel that showed almost exclusively modern classic movies like “Top Gun” and “Unforgiven” into a creator of original TV series that become popular water cooler topics.

The higher ratings have been a boon to AMC, which airs commercials on its programming. The company reported that ad revenues increased 16 per cent to US$157 million in the fourth quarter.