Wall Street believes that time is on Viacom’s side as DirecTV’s 20M customers enter their second week without the programmers’ 17 channels. “Viacom is in a stronger negotiating position” than DirecTV because subscribers who want to watch channels such as Nickelodeon, MTV, and Comedy Central have “plenty of other options” including cable and Dish Network, Dave Novosel of independent corporate bond research service Gimme Credit says this morning. OK, but what would a peace deal look like? Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett and Todd Junger say that Viacom possibly tipped its hand about one element last week when it yanked a lot of its shows from the Web. That might have signaled Viacom’s willingness to collect higher prices for channels by making them exclusive to pay TV. A concession like that would please DirecTV and other pay TV providers: They resent paying for programming including Nickelodeon shows such as SpongeBob Square Pants that subscribers can see elsewhere either for free or — in the case of streaming services such as Netflix — for a relatively modest subscription fee. It also might work for Viacom. Although the company insists that it’s benefited from having so much TV content online, the Bernstein analysts believe it may be a big reason why ratings have plummeted at Nickelodeon and other channels. “Perhaps you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” they say. Even so, they warn that the spat “may go on a long time” due to the huge gap between what Viacom wants and DirecTV is willing to pay.
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