DirecTV’s 20M customers lost Viacom’s 17 channels — including Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central — at about 11:50 PM ET. Now the finger-pointing is underway. Derek Chang, the satellite company’s EVP Content, Strategy and Development, says that Viacom “sent us a letter last night that outlined our obligations to remove the channels by midnight or face legal action just as they were falsely telling viewers DirecTV was responsible. Let’s be clear, Viacom took these channels away from DirecTV viewers.” But Viacom says “DirecTV dropped the channels without giving Viacom advanced warning.” They last spoke at 11 AM on Tuesday, the company says. The big issue is price: DirecTV says that Viacom is demanding 30% more for its channels — equal to about $1B. It isn’t justified, Chang says, due to “the fact that the ratings for many of their main networks have plummeted and much of Viacom’s programming can be seen for free online.” Viacom counters that it “proposed a fair deal that amounted to an increase of only a couple pennies per day, per subscriber, and we remained willing to negotiate that deal right up to this evening’s deadline. However, DirecTV refused to engage in meaningful conversation.”
Viewers who tune in to a Viacom network will see a mix of replacement channels, DirecTV says: For example, in the Nickelodeon slot customers will find other children’s programming choices including The Disney Channel, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, PBS Sprout, The Hub and Boomerang. In addition, customers can “see full-length Viacom episodes for free by going to http://www.directvpromise.com and clicking on the ‘Other Ways to Watch’ tab,” DirecTV says.
The big question now is: who can hold out the longest? Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett says that “DirecTV would appear to have significant leverage this time around” because of the weak ratings at Nickelodeon and MTV. But the consensus is that both sides will want to settle this soon. Viacom says that its channels account for about 20% of all the viewing on DirecTV. Nomura Securities’ Michael Nathanson predicts that with no deal “this negotiation between Viacom and DirecTV will turn negative very quickly.” In the end, though, he expects Viacom to receive at least high single digit annual rate increases over the life of its deal. “We do not believe Viacom is worried about the short-term quarterly impact,” he says. Investors didn’t seem especially fearful on Tuesday: On a day when the benchmarck Standard & Poors 500 was down about 0.8%, Viacom dropped 1.6% and DirecTV was down 0.6%.