Fans find ways to catch ‘The Walking Dead’

Some couples might be ending Valentine’s Day by cuddling up on the couch to watch some zombie-filled drama on the mid-season premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but that’s not necessarily the case for some Shentel customers.

The cable and Internet provider dropped AMC Networks at the beginning of this year, including Sundance, IFC, WE and BBC World. Shentel attributed losing those channels to negotiation failures with the programmer, citing a 379 percent rate increase that would’ve accrued over the course of the new contract.

Chris Kyle, Shentel’s vice president of industry relations and regulatory, said the company has received a number of positive statements from customers.

“We really haven’t seen any large call volume to date on this since when we took the channel off back in January, and we really haven’t seen any kind of material or immaterial subscriber losses from it,” he said. “This is a new experience for us, and we’re watching this and monitoring it and trying to talk to customers that call in and are concerned about it.”

Shentel is part of the National Cable Television Cooperative, which worked to negotiate a contract with AMC as 2015 ended. Shentel is one of 81 member companies – most of them being smaller or rural cable providers – that refused the cooperative’s terms and opted out of the contract.

Woodstock resident and former Shentel customer Mary Raciborski delivered a petition with the names of around 150 people to the company before it decided to cut the channels, asking the company to renegotiate and retain the channels. She said that more than half of those who signed the petition aren’t Shentel customers, but many are stockholders.

Raciborski said she used Shentel’s services for 24 years since moving from Long Island, New York, but she’ll be watching the premiere this weekend through her new Dish satellite. She said she switched over so she could keep watching “The Walking Dead,”  but she’s satisfied with the coverage she gets for around $30 less per month. The only service she couldn’t find an alternative for was Internet, but she said she’s been fine without it.

While Raciborski is all set to catch the rest of “The Walking Dead” season, she said many of her coworkers without AMC have resigned to watching the show when it comes out on disc. Shentel encouraged its customers to watch new episodes through a number of alternative means like iTunes and Amazon.

Kyle said that if Shentel had accepted AMC’s contract proposal, the costs involved would have driven customer bills up by around $2 per month. Beyond the increased costs, Shentel objected to use of “The Walking Dead” and its massive popularity as a bargaining chip to require all of the network’s channels on Shentel’s Advanced package.

Raciborski said the costs were already too high and the service too poor, so many people were already holding Shentel to scrutiny before “The Walking Dead” came under fire.

“It is because that’s probably the most watched TV show and I think that’s why the price went up too high,” she said. “They said they didn’t want to put that cost to the consumer, but the cost goes up every year.”

According to Kyle, current Advanced package customers will see a 77-cent monthly credit on their bill to reflect the missing channels, while Ultimate users will see a $1.22 credit.

Shentel Marketing Supervisor Cindy Rinker said she’s been keeping up with “The Walking Dead” season six after binge-watching the show last year. She said she’s going to be using Amazon Prime to stream the new episodes as they come out, since she frequently streams audio and video.

“I haven’t decided whether I’m going to buy a season pass or if I’m going to buy it per episode – I’m not going to miss it,” she said. “I think there are some other ways that you can get it…but that’s my preferred [method].”

When flipping to AMC in December, Shentel customers would see a message suggesting they call the programmer directly to air their complaints. Raciborski said that when presenting her position, a Shentel worker asked if she had seen a similar notification with her monthly bill.

With the two business’ conflicting demands, Kyle said he doesn’t see any new deal being worked out in the near future, and added that he hopes the dispute will spark a change in the industry.

“For right now, we’re not looking to change our course,” he said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

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