AT&T extends olive branch to rural subscribers with RFD-TV commitment

AT&T (NYSE: T) signed an agreement with Rural Media Group to carry RFD-TV on U-verse, making it clear that the service provider doesn't want rural subscribers to stand in the way of its $48.5 billion takeover of DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV).

Rural subscribers, fearing the loss of an important source of targeted information, submitted "well over half of the 14,000 comments filed with the FCC about the proposed merger," a Wall Street Journal story said. AT&T had been reluctant to add the channel to its lineup, citing limited demand for rural programming, a claim that seemingly went against the carrier's assertion that a DirecTV takeover would actually expand access in less populated areas.

"We strive to carry content that appeals to a wide variety of audiences," Aaron Slator, president of content development at AT&T said in a corporate news release.

The agreement answers the "number one request being received by RFD-TV," said Patrick Gottsch, founder and president of rural Media Group in the same news release. "With this announcement, AT&T will be carrying all of our channels, RFD-TV, RFD HD and FamilyNet. That's a real tribute to their support for carrying independent networks that address large, underserved audiences."

The deal with AT&T makes RFD-TV available to more than 46 million homes, the release said, adding the channel to the U-verse lineup immediately. The high definition version will launch by year's end.

AT&T is not the only merger with RFD-TV implications. The Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA)-Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) deal also has included questions about carriage, especially as cable operators trim less-viewed channels to save money. In August, Comcast removed RFD-TV from its channel lineup in Colorado and New Mexico.

In defending its acquisition to the FCC in August, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen suggested that rural-focused channels had no need to worry.

"Comcast carries over 160 independent networks and since 2011 has launched four new minority-owned or managed independent networks," a letter to the federal regulators said.

For more:
- AT&T has this press release
- The Wall Street Journal has this story

Related articles:
Comcast-TWC, AT&T-DirecTV megadeals have rural viewers worried
Small, rural-focused RFD-TV becomes force amid merger approvals
Comcast's Cohen pleads merger case to FCC officials