Popular channels face the axe in fees dispute

Millions of American viewers may lose access to MTV, Nickelodeon and more than a dozen other cable television channels on Thursday if media giants Viacom and Time Warner fail to agree on a renewed licensing agreement.


AFP - Millions of subscribers to the Time Warner Cable television network risked losing some of their favorite shows on Thursday amid a bitter dispute with entertainment giant Viacom Inc. over rights fees.

Viacom has threatened to pull Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1 and 15 other channels from Time Warner and its 13.3 million subscribers at 12:01 am (0501 GMT) on Thursday if a new fees deal is not reached by then.

Viacom published a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and other newspapers on Wednesday showing "Dora the Explorer," the star of its popular Nickelodeon cartoon, shedding a tear.

"Why is Dora crying?" the ad asked before answering its own question. "Time Warner Cable is taking Dora off the air tonight!"

Glenn Britt, president and chief executive of Time Warner Cable, the second largest US cable network, shot back with a statement of his own on Wednesday.

"Christmas is over, but Viacom is still playing Scrooge, threatening to pull its MTV Networks off of Time Warner Cable at midnight tonight unless we ask our customers to pay exorbitant price increases," he said.

Britt accused Viacom of "trying to extort another 39 million dollars annually" from Time Warner customers.

"Demanding that our customers pay so much more for these few networks would be unreasonable in any economy, but it is particularly outrageous given the current economic conditions," he said.

"We sympathize with the fact that Viacom's advertising business is suffering and that their networks' ratings have largely been declining," Britt said. "However, we can't abide their attempt to make up their lost revenue on the backs of Time Warner Cable customers."

"We implore them to join with us to reach a fair resolution or grant an extension, and we hope they won't carry through with their threat to take their networks away from our customers tonight," the Time Warner CEO said.

Viacom laid the blame on Time Warner.

"The move by Time Warner Cable to force such channels as Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV off the air is another example of a cable company overreaching for profit at the expense of its viewers," it said in a statement.

"The renewal we are seeking is reasonable and modest relative to the profits Time Warner Cable enjoys from our networks," Viacom said. "We have asked for an increase of less than 25 cents per month, per subscriber, which adds up to less than a penny per day for all 19 of MTV Networks' channels.

"We make this request because Time Warner Cable has so greatly undervalued our channels for so long," Viacom said. "Americans spend more than 20 percent of their TV viewing time watching our networks, yet our fees amount to less than 2.5 percent of what Time Warner generates from their average customer."

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