Updated: Rhetoric Rising In Hallmark, AT&T Carriage Dispute


The war of words is heating up in the carriage contretemps between Hallmark Channels and AT&T U-verse.
Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Hallmark Channels, fired back at the telco on Thursday night, maintaining the family-friendly programmer didn't want to make the dispute public and that U-verse is seeking unreasonable license fees.
The current distribution deal between AT&T U-verse and Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel expires on Aug. 31.
"It is unfortunate that AT&T U-verse's statement of the situation is inaccurate. They are a multi-billion dollar organization bullying one of the nation's last surviving independent cable networks by insisting on unreasonable rates that would seriously jeopardize our longevity," said Abbott in a statement. "Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel are two of the few remaining family-friendly networks offered on television and represent less than 1% of AT&T's total basic programming fees! Although we would have preferred to conduct the negotiations privately, we have been forced to comment since AT&T advised its customers weeks ago that Hallmark Channels may be dropped on August 31, 2010."
Abbott's comments came in remarks made by AT&T mid-day on Thursday.
"We are making every effort to reach a fair agreement and continue providing these channels to our customers. Frankly, we're surprised that Hallmark has decided to take its negotiations public, instead of working with us in good faith, especially since we've made numerous offers to Hallmark. We're disappointed that Hallmark is acting in a way that may punish viewers and is trying to charge AT&T more than what similarly-sized and smaller TV competitors pay for these channels. We want to continue to carry the channels under terms similar to our current agreement," said AT&T.
"We don't want customers to lose their programming. We're fighting for a fair deal because our customers deserve the programming they want, at a fair price. We want to reach an agreement that is fair to our subscribers and for all parties, as we have with numerous other content providers."
The telco declined further comment on Friday.

That's also when Hallmark Channels spokeswoman Nancy Carr said the programmer would be "more than willing" to grant an extension to AT&T to continue carrying the channels while the two negotiate.

"We assume if AT&T isn't willing to grant an extension that they will drop the channels based on what they have conveyed to us," she told Multichannel News.

On Sunday night, the spokeswoman said there was "no news" to report on the negotiating impasse.

Hallmark officials indicated that AT&T U-verse sent postcards, dated Aug. 1, to its customers about the possible loss of Hallmark Channel and its sister service Hallmark Movie Channel if a new deal isn't consummated by that deadline. More recently, AT&T notified Hallmark Channels of the potential drop.