Viacom, Suddenlink dispute blocks some popular channels

A screenshot from “The Daily Show” showing the message delivered to Suddenlink subscribers trying to access the program.

A screenshot from “The Daily Show” showing the message delivered to Suddenlink subscribers trying to access the program.

A contract dispute between Viacom and Suddenlink went unresolved going into October, causing Suddenlink to drop all Viacom channels from its lineup beginning Wednesday at midnight.

Those channels include Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Spike TV, CMT, MTV, VH-1, and BET. Internet streams to these sites have also been blocked to users who use Suddenlink as their Internet provider.

Contract negotiations of this type often aren't resolved until hours before a contract expires. Suddenlink said that Viacom was asking for nearly 50 percent more to carry its channels.

"From time to time, Suddenlink's agreements with the owners of cable networks and television stations must be renewed," read a public notice issued by Suddenlink last Friday. "We are usually able to renew or extend those agreements. Our current agreements with Viacom will expire on September 30, 2014. We are working diligently to negotiate a new, acceptable and fair agreement to continue carrying Viacom's channels."

Suddenlink decided to move forward without Viacom on Wednesday.

"We were not able to reach an agreement with Viacom and, as of today, we introduced new channels comparable in number to those Viacom removed," said Gene Regan, senior director of corporate communications at Suddenlink, via email to the Daily Miner.

The channels added in place of Viacom include FXX, The Hallmark Channel, Pivot, Sprout, The Blaze, Uplifting Entertainment and WE TV.

Digital tier subscribers will also get Aspire, Baby First, Comedy.tv, Crime & Investigation, ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater, Fusion, Game Show Network, MGM Channel, Military History Channel, Revolt and RLTV.

Suddenlink has launched a website, suddenlinkonyourside.com, to detail their side of the Viacom negotiations. One of the key arguments that they refute is that Viacom accepted their offer and Suddenlink refused.

"The truth is, Viacom has rejected all our offers, including the one we made Sept. 30," the website reads. "It's unfortunate we could not reach agreement, and we understand the frustration this will cause some customers, but we sincerely hope they'll give the new channels a try and that they find those channels as compelling as others have said they do."

Viacom has also launched its own campaign against Suddenlink, detailed at keepviacom.com.

They argue that Suddenlink reneged on its own proposal.

"On September 30, after Viacom agreed to Suddenlink's latest proposal, Suddenlink took the unprecedented step of rejecting its own offer and informed Viacom that it was dropping our networks," the website reads.

"Over the course of the five-month negotiation, we presented Suddenlink with a number of options and solutions to help us reach a mutually beneficial distribution agreement. We are surprised and extremely disappointed to be in this situation where Suddenlink has rejected the very same deal they presented to us."

According to a press release from Viacom, the company claims that they attract the largest number of viewers compared to any other cable provider.

"According to Nielsen, at any given time, one out of every five cable viewers under the age of 50 is watching a Viacom network. Viacom programming accounts for one-third of all free video-on-demand orders by Suddenlink customers."

Both parties have not provided a timeframe on when or if this dispute will be resolved. Regan from Suddenlink stated via email that long-term contracts have been signed with the new channels replacing Viacom's lineup.

Suddenlink has about 1.2 million cable customers in Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

This is not the first time Viacom has had a dispute with cable providers. Earlier this year, Viacom was dropped by more than 60 smaller cable companies with a combined subscription base of more than 900,000 people.

They have not re-negotiated with Viacom yet to get those channels back.