Hargray, Viacom strike temporary deal to keep channels on air

dburley@islandpacket.comApril 1, 2014 

Hargray Communications and Viacom reached a temporary deal Tuesday that allows the Hilton Head Island-based cable provider to broadcast the programmer's channels while the two continue to negotiate a new contract.

Earlier in the day, Viacom pulled its channels -- including MTV, BET, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central -- after the companies failed to resolve a pricing dispute. Viacom's contract with Hargray expired at midnight.

"We're confident we'll be able to keep the channels on as negotiations continue," Hargray digital marketing manager Robert Gilbert said.

Talks between Viacom and Hargray's representative -- the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents nearly 800 small- to medium-sized cable companies -- were ongoing Tuesday evening, Gilbert said.

He said he was unsure when the dispute would be resolved.

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

Contract negotiations have been contentious because Viacom wants Hargray and other firms to pay over-the-top fee increases, according to Hargray vice president Gerrit Albert.

Cable companies pay programmers such as Viacom a monthly per-channel fee. 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.

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

Along with temporarily losing channels Tuesday, the beginning of the month brought 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.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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