Viacom Inc. and Charter Communications have agreed to keep cable networks like Comedy Central and Nickelodeon on the air, according to a person familiar with the talks, while the two sides continue to negotiate terms of renewal to a deal that would keep Viacom’s cable networks in front of approximately 16.5 million Charter subscribers. The two companies were believed to be operating as if their current contract expired Sunday.
“Viacom has agreed to a short term extension of our renewal deadline with Charter while we work to reach a mutually beneficial deal,” this person said. A Charter spokesperson could not be reached for immediate comment.
The discussions could be critical for Viacom. In May,Charter moved Viacom-owned networks like Spike, MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central to a higher-priced tier on its cable service. In August, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish told investors the companies were far apart on the issue. Viacom and Charter are also bickering over whether Viacom can take part in so-called “skinny bundle” packages that would make a narrower selection of TV networks available to consumers looking to pay less for linear content.
In recent days, both companies have launched promotions to make their case to the public. Charter has launched a microsite that tells consumers “Viacom has been overpaid for their channels over the recent year” and “Their business is suffering and they are trying to boost their bottom line at the expense of you, our customer.” Viacom, meanwhile, has run crawls at the bottom of the screen on some networks telling viewers of Charter’s Spectrum cable service the networks might come off the air. The company has also enlisted celebrities like Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” on its Comedy Central, to tweet about the situation.
“Viacom has made a series of very attractive offers to Charter that are consistent with terms we’ve recently reached with other large cable operators. Importantly, these offers would enable Charter to lower Spectrum subscribers’ bills, while also giving them more access to shows across Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and other Viacom networks,” Viacom said in a statement last week. “Our ongoing negotiations with Viacom are about one thing–reaching an agreement that’s fair for our customers.’ Charter said in its own statement last week. “We are disappointed that an agreement has not yet been reached, despite Spectrum offering a fair price for Viacom’s channels.”
Both sides have reason to keep negotiating. Subscribers and government officials take a dim view of networks being removed from a distributor’s service, particularly because subscribers don’t always get a refund when the content goes missing.