Here’s the latest sign of Viacom’s fraying relationship with small cable operators: Due to a contract impasse, at midnight Suddenlink will become the second cable company — following Cable One — that doesn’t carry the entertainment power’s channels including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV and VH1. Viacom wanted “a nearly 50% increase in payments, even though viewership has decreased in the last several years for their main channels, some by almost 30%,” the St. Louis-based operator says. Viacom counters that it agreed today to accept Suddenlink’s last renewal proposal, made last week, for a year. “Suddenlink took the unprecedented step of rejecting its own proposal.” Viacom adds that it “attracts the greatest share of viewing of any cable programmer.”
It’s a modest loss for Viacom in raw numbers: Suddenlink has about 1.2M video subscribers concentrated in Texas, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Missouri and Ohio. Separately, Viacom confirmed that it has a multi-year renewal deal with Verizon’s FiOS.
Still, the dispute with Suddenlink could raise “a huge red flag” for Viacom, says Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, one of the company’s sharpest critics. “If a prolonged blackout were to ensue, we believe investors would rightfully question Viacom’s ability to get future deals with other small distributors – and maybe even large distributors.” Cable One stopped offering Viacom channels in April, and was joined by dozens of tiny, mostly rural systems. Viacom’s also embroiled in a lawsuit with Cablevision over channel bundling.
Suddenlink says that it will replace the Viacom networks with services including FXX, Hallmark Channel, OWN, Pivot, Sprout, TheBlaze, Up! and WE tv.