Long-simmering issues between Viacom and Charter Communications could bubble over this week if the two can’t come to an agreement on a new carriage contract. The latest shot across the bow came today when Viacom warned that despite making “a series of very attractive offers to Charter” its channels could go dark on the cable carrier. The current contract expires Sunday.
“Viacom is committed to developing strong, mutually beneficial relationships with our distribution partners,” it said. “Despite our efforts, Charter continues to insist on unreasonable and extreme terms that are totally inconsistent with the market. While we’re making every effort to reach a new deal, Charter’s actions may force a disruption in their service.”
Today’s comments come about a week after the resolution of the latest carriage dispute, between the Walt Disney Company and the country’s No. 4 cable operator Altice USA. Those companies had also warned of blackouts and lockouts ahead of the agreement that covered a dozen cable networks for New York-area customers of Altice’s Optimum service, the former Cablevision platform, plus New York network affiliate WABC.
In May, Charter took Viacom channels including Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, Spike, BET and Comedy Central off of its basic package — putting them on a higher-priced tier — for new subscribers. It also has a “skinny bundle” without sports, or Viacom.
“They don’t have the contractual right to tier our services the way they have,” CEO Bob Bakish said in August about the move. Still, “I don’t fundamentally believe suing big customers is the way to solve problems. The better way to solve them is through engagement and exploring ways we can create value together.”
He added that impasse wouldn’t be resolved until they get to negotiating a new carriage deal. “This could take a little time.” he said.
Added Viacom today: “Viacom has made a series of very attractive offers to Charter that are consistent with terms we’ve recently reached with other large cable operators. Importantly, these offers would enable Charter to lower Spectrum subscribers’ bills, while also giving them more access to shows across Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and other Viacom networks.”
Charter acquired Time Warner in 2016 to become the nation’s second-largest cable operator. Earlier this year, it settled a dispute with Fox News over the rates the cable operator pays for the channel. At issue was whether Charter had to pay the rates it negotiated with Fox, or could switch to lower ones the network had with Time Warner Cable before Charter acquired it.