Hargray, Viacom at an impasse; channels likely to go dark

dburley@islandpacket.comMarch 31, 2014 

STOCK

  • VIACOM CHANNELS AFFECTED

    These cable channels are likely to be blacked out Tuesday if a contract dispute between Viacom and Hargray Communications isn't settled:

    • MTV
    • BET
    • Comedy Central
    • Nickelodeon
    • Spike TV
    • TV Land
    • CMT

A contract dispute that wasn't settled as of late Monday will likely mean Viacom will black out several popular channels for Hargray Communications cable subscribers by Tuesday morning.

Hargray's contract with the mass media company was to expire at midnight. If a new deal was not reached, Viacom had threatened to pull its channels carried by Hargray, according to Hargray executives and a Viacom news release. The channels include MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

Talks between Viacom and Hargray's representative -- the National Cable Television Cooperative, which is negotiating for nearly 800 small- to medium-sized cable companies -- were ongoing Monday night.

Neither side was making headway, Hargray vice president Gerrit Albert said.

"Really, nothing is changing," he said. "We're at an impasse at this point."

Attempts Monday to reach representatives from Viacom and the cooperative's chief executive, Richard Fickle, were unsuccessful.

The dispute centers around money: Viacom wants more, and Hargray and the other cable firms don't want to pay, Albert said.

Cable companies pay programmers such as Viacom a monthly per-channel fee. Frequently, as contracts between the entities near expiration, new agreements are negotiated.

Albert said Viacom wants an increase 40 times the rate of inflation and much higher than the usual 8 to 10 percent increase most programmers require. He declined to disclose Viacom's price.

"We hope to have a resolution soon with a fair price," he said. "But we're also prepared for Viacom to turn off channels."

Other Viacom channels include Spike TV, TV Land and CMT.

Hargray will temporarily put a message on the blacked-out channels to inform viewers, Albert said. The firm will then re-transmit similar channels onto channels that went dark, he said.

For example, Hargray will show Disney Channel on what was Nickelodeon, giving viewers two Disney channels.

Along with potentially losing channels Tuesday, the beginning of the month brings new monthly rates for customers.

Bills jumped by an average of $5, according to a letter Hargray sent to its nearly 30,000 Beaufort County subscribers.

Coupled with a new $2 Internet charge, a customer with a cable TV-Internet bundle will pay $7 more a month, or $84 more per year, according to statistics in the letter.

Last month, Albert said the price increases from programmers such as Viacom were the primary reason Hargray raised its cable rates.

However, if Viacom and Hargray can't broker a deal, customers' fees could drop to prevent subscribers from paying for channels they can't receive, Albert said. He did not provide a timeline for when this could occur.

"We're hoping to come to a negotiated settlement where we don't have to contemplate that," he said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content:

  • Contract dispute affecting Hargray subscribers nearing deadline, March 28, 2014: http://bit.ly/1e4GOpB
  • Contract dispute could black out popular channels for Hargray subscribers, March 21, 2014: http://bit.ly/1iSnHDv

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