(Updated 8:36 a.m.)
After a barrage of criticisms leveled at both sides, satellite TV provider DirecTV and programming provider Viacom sat down to resume talks on a new content deal Wednesday.
The resumption followed DirecTV’s decision to pull the plug on more than two dozen channels supplied by Viacom – among them MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Jersey Shore, Nickelodeon, and CMT – after the two could not reach a deal by midnight Tuesday.
Spokespersons from both companies said talks had resumed, according to The Wall Street Journal. Chief Executive Officer Mike White said Wednesday talks were continuing but the two sides remained “pretty far apart.”
Around 20 million DirecTV subscribers are affected by the blackout and they had plenty to say about both companies on Twitter and on this blog.
“Shutting down was the right choice and one hopes it serves as a warning signal to other entertainment providers that their products are not worth significant cost increases, especially in this economic climate,” wrote “Kenneth Stallings” on this blog in siding with DirecTV.
“DirecTV can hide the additional charges somewhere in the bill like they do everything else,” wrote “David Anthony”. “They are trying to make us believe they care about the consumer.”
“The biggest question is will my monthly bill go down until this dispute is revolved?” asked commenter “NL.” “My payments are based on a certain amount of channels and if I am not getting those channels I should not be paying for them.” (DirecTV hasn’t said it’s lowering any bills due to the impasse.)
The contract dispute isn’t new. Just last month, 14 million Dish Network customers lost access to AMC Networks’ programming because Dish balked at having to carry bundled “low-rated channels like IFC and WE tv to access a few popular AMC shows,” Dish said.
DirecTV and programming giant Viacom have been trying to strike a new deal to extend their current seven-year contract, which expired June 30. The subscribers affected represent one-fifth of all satellite and cable TV viewers in the U.S.
Viacom said Monday that talks on a new distribution contract – the current one bundles channels – had reached an impasse. In a statement, Viacom said DirecTV had refused “to consider a fair deal that recognizes the value of Viacom programming.”
DirecTV, however, says Viacom essentially wants more than $1 billion in additional fees, or 30 percent more, for programming that is losing viewership. DirecTV wants to be able to pick and choose the programming it wants as part of the bundling deal, saying in a statement: “We currently pay them hundreds of millions of dollars every year already, and if Viacom thinks their networks are worth a billion more, then you have to be able to select what’s most important in your own living room. It’s your money, so you should be able to decide.”
In a statement to subscribers on its website, DirecTV said “Viacom forced us to take [the channels] down or face legal action. We’re doing everything we can to get these channels back on the air – without an unfair increase to your bill. In the meantime, we want to keep you connected to your favorite shows.”
On its website, Viacom said it is only asking DirecTV “for an increase of a couple of pennies per day per subscriber. That’s far less than DirecTV pays other programmers with fewer viewers than Viacom.”
Viacom added that it “has always been open to negotiating and hopes to get a deal done.”
DirecTV did not say how long the blackout would last, but one Wall Street analyst told The New York Times the duration could be one to four weeks.
DirecTV tried to reassure subscribers Wednesday that a deal will be inked. “Rest assured, we’ll get the deal done to get your channels back at a price you can still afford,” the company said.
It also tried to persuade subscribers not to switch to competitors. “Switching providers only makes it easier for programmers to increase your monthly bill no matter who provides your TV service,” DirecTV said.
Both companies are waging a public campaign to get viewers to pressure each side to strike a deal. Viacom is urging viewers to “call DirecTV now.” DirecTV warns viewers that “Viacom wants you to pay over 30% more.”
“Leebrsel” wrote on this blog, “Viacom and DirecTV execs…STOP acting like children, suck it up, play nice and sign a deal that gives the customers what they want!”