Viacom eyes U.K. exit

Conglom may move HQ if cable regs pass

LONDON — Viacom, the parent of MTV and Nickelodeon, is threatening to move its European headquarters out of Britain if new regulations allowing the unbundling of TV channel packages go ahead.

The threat adds more weight to cries of foul from British cable and satellite channels over plans by the ITC, the U.K.’s commercial TV regulatory org, to let cable operators and satcaster BSkyB offer “mini-basic” channel packages instead of guaranteed carriage of each bundled channel to at least 80% of subscribers.

The ITC, bowing to pressure from Brit cablers — who are seeking to improve poor subscriber uptake — has deemed the bundling of channels anti-competitive. Without guaranteed distribution, however, many British niche channels fear they will suffer or even be forced to shut down.

ITC plans decried

A Viacom spokesman told Daily Variety that the ITC’s plans lacked “a proper economic analysis” and would “lead to less choice, fewer channels and job losses — the opposite of what the ITC intends” for the U.K. market.

Viacom has also put its case to the British telecommunications regulator Oftel, whose powers theoretically overlap with those of the ITC.

Viacom employs about 1,000 staff in London, but argues that by moving its operations to the continent it could circumvent ITC regulations. Although that seems both drastic and unlikely, the spokesperson maintained “it is something that we would have to consider.”

Ruling planned in June

The ITC is expected to rule on bundling sometime in June. Its decision could impact negotiations between both Viacom and British Digital Broadcasting, the digital terrestrial consortium, and Viacom and BSkyB.

Both broadcasters are seeking Viacom services for their digital platforms.