DirecTV drops 17 networks in Viacom feud
Jul 12, 2012 (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Amber Sylvester fielded an angry call at work on Wednesday from a teenager fuming over the fact that her favorite networks had vanished from DirecTV's lineup.
"My daughter called me because she was trying to watch Nickelodeon and then MTV," Sylvester, 31, of Apollo said of her 13-year-old daughter Aysha. "She was so mad. These are the only things that she watches."
DirecTV, the country's largest satellite television provider, at 11:46 p.m. Tuesday stopped airing 17 national networks as part of a rate squabble with media conglomerate Viacom Inc.
Viacom demanded its networks come off DirecTV's programming roster by midnight, DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said.
In addition to Nickelodeon and MTV, other networks include Comedy Central, VH1, BET and Spike.
DirecTV officials claim the move was necessary because of Viacom's insistence on a 30 percent rate hike that would have added another $1 billion in costs "for channels, many of which are in a ratings decline," Mercer said.
He declined to say how much DirecTV was paying for Viacom programming.
"The important thing to understand is, first of all, Viacom is responsible for taking the channels down," Mercer said. "It's a tactic that is designed to force an unfair price increase on our customers. This is about protecting our customers from excessive rate increases and making sure they don't pay more than customers of any other TV provider."
In a blog posted on its website, a Viacom executive said DirecTV again on Tuesday offered to pay less than anyone else in the industry.
"It is essentially the same proposal they had been talking about for three weeks, and one we continually said we would not do," said Denise Denson, Viacom's executive vice president of content distribution and marketing. "DirecTV also refused to engage with us on any issues related to the deal beyond the rate increase. We are ready to talk at any time."
El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV started in 1994 and had 19.9 million customers at the end of 2011. Its chief rival, Dish Network, has 14.3 million subscribers.
By comparison, more than 100 million people subscribe to U.S. cable television providers. The largest is Comcast with 22.3 million subscribers.
On July 1, Dish dropped AMC Networks and its popular lineup of shows, including "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "The Walking Line" over a fee dispute.
Dish provided Roku 2 devices to customers that allow them to access AMC programs on their televisions via the Internet.
DirecTV is not offering such a solution, Mercer said.
"But we are making customers aware of all the alternative ways to find their favorite shows," he said.
Customers can find information about the standoff and ways to watch Viacom shows online at www.DirecTVPromise.com, Mercer said.
Sylvester said she is unsure who's to blame in the dispute.
In the end it might not matter because her 10-year subscription to DirecTV is the only thing in jeopardy.
She said she pays for the service because of her daughter.
"So if she cannot watch what she wants," Sylvester said, "there is no point in having it."
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936
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