Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Cable firms, Viacom in talks on pact

by Glen Chase | April 2, 2014 at 3:42 a.m.

Negotiations between entertainment content company Viacom Inc. and a group representing small cable television operators around the country, including several in Arkansas, continued Tuesday after an existing licensing fee contract expired at midnight Monday.

Viacom and the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. negotiated through the deadline and overnight after their old content contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Viacom originally said it would stop providing cable operators with its channels when the old contract expired, but it held off interrupting service as negotiations continued.

Viacom channels include Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., MTV, VH1, CMT, BET, SPIKE and Comedy Central. Viacom’s network programming reaches approximately 700 million television viewers worldwide, according to the company.

Details on the status of the talks were unavailable Tuesday. A spokesman for Viacom deferred answering questions about the talks, while a spokesman for the cooperative didn’t respond to a phone message and email.

Several independent Arkansas cable operators, including WEHCO Video Inc., are among those represented by the cooperative, which serves more than 950 operators nationally that combined have approximately 5.2 million subscribers. The cooperative, based in Lenexa, Kan., provides programming, hardware, marketing and other resources for small operators.

WEHCO Video has 51,312 subscribers in four states, including about 31,500 in Arkansas, according to Charlotte Dial, the company’s vice president for administration. WEHCO Video is a division of WEHCO Media Inc., the parent company of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.. In addition to its Arkansas subscribers, WEHCO Media also provides cable service to customers in parts of Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.

On Tuesday night, the websites of the WEHCO Video providers had the following messages for their customers:

“We continue to negotiate with Viacom in good faith that a reasonable agreement can be reached. They have offered 1 hour extensions through the evening as talks continued. This has allowed us to keep the programming available to our customers. We will keep you updated as information is made available.”

“The most popular channel that they have is Nickelodeon. It’s one that they’re very proud of,” Dial said of Viacom. Unlike past contract renewal talks, Viacom didn’t offer any new programming. “A lot of times what happens when there’s a renewal like this, there’s usually a new service offering that they’re wanting us to add, but we’re not seeing that,” Dial said.

Dial said the cooperative wasn’t rejecting a rate increase outright, but felt Viacom sought too much of an increase. She declined to talk about the specific increase originally sought by Viacom.

Conway’s cable provider, Conway Corp., posted a message on its website Tuesday that read: “Our negotiations with Viacom continued throughout the night. We are encouraged by Viacom’s decision to NOT disrupt your service by requiring us to pull the services from your channel lineup. We fully anticipate concluding our negotiations today and thank you for your continued patience and loyalty as a valued customer.”

Conway Corp. operates city-owned cable, electric, water and other utility services for the city. Its chief executive officer, Richard Arnold, said the notice was a response to a crawler and advertising spots that Viacom aired on its programs telling viewers to contact their cable provider about the negotiations and urge them not to allow the channels to be dropped.

He said about 90 of Conway Corp.’s 18,000 subscribers called as a result of the spots.

Providers such as Viacom offer just part of a cable operator’s programming mix, Arnold said.

“It’s a good service. You’ve got to have a good mix of programming to deal with a broad range of customers,” Arnold said.

The potential effect of a deal between Viacom and the cooperative on subscribers is unclear, he said, adding that no single cost drives rates.

“Ultimately, all programming charges are going to be passed on to subscribers,” Arnold said. He didn’t expect any immediate effect on rates from the Viacom deal, but said rising costs overall can’t be ignored.

Business, Pages 27 on 04/02/2014

Print Headline: Cable firms, Viacom in talks on pact


Sponsor Content