Viacom, DirecTV in dispute over Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, other channels

Keith Srakocic/AP - This photo made with a fisheye lens on Nov. 2, 2011, shows a DirecTv satellite dish on a post in the front yard of a home in Harmony, Pa.

A dispute between Viacom and DirecTV has left millions of satellite customers without access to popular channels such as Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV and CMT. In all, 17 distinct channels are out, though the HD versions of some bring the total up to 26.

The dispute has brought up the issue of “cable choice” or the ability to let customers pick and choose what channels they want to pay for in their subscriptions. DirecTV has said that its customers should be able to pay only for the Viacom channels they want, while Viacom has said such a deal wouldn’t be fair to its distributors.

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Dispute over the issue has brought the debate spilling out of the boardroom and onto the screens of DirecTV consumers, who will see replacement channels when they flip to Viacom stations.

Both sides in the fight have been eager to place blame on the other.

In a statement sent to the media early Wednesday morning, DirecTV said that Viacom was being unreasonable and asking for satellite customers to pay more than 30 percent more to continue receiving channels over the service.

“We have been very willing to get a deal done, but Viacom is pushing DirecTV customers to pay more than a 30 percent increase, which equates to an extra $1 billion,” company executive Derek Chang said in a statement, pointing out that many of Viacom’s programs can be seen for free online. He went on to say that DirecTV had offered to increase rates by some amount, but that it couldn’t accept Viacom’s “extravagant financial demands.”

For its part, Viacom issued a statement answering the accusation that it was being unreasonable by saying DirecTV was lying about its willingness to reach an agreement.

Denise Denson, Viacom’s Executive Vice President of Content Distribution and Marketing, said in a statement on the company’s blog that DirecTV refused to speak with the media company past 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Denson also said that DirecTV’s last offer to Viacom was “lower than anyone else pays us in the industry.”

Advocates for an a la carte model of programming such as the Parents Television Council say that this is a clear example of why there needs to be more discussion about how cable channels are bundled.

“The contract negotiation between DirecTV and Viacom is the latest startling example of failure in the marketplace through forced product bundling,” said PTC President Tim Winter in a statement calling on Congress and the FCC to examine the issue. “The easy answer is to allow consumers to pick and pay for the cable channels they want,” he said.

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