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Viacom Stock Plunges as Dish Renewal Fight Heats Up

Viacom shares have taken a hit as the war of words with Dish Network heats up in advance of Wednesday’s contract expiration.

Viacom and Dish are facing a midnight ET deadline for setting a renewal agreement for 18 channels including Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET. Viacom on Tuesday added a crawl to its channels on Dish, warning viewers of a possible blackout ahead.

Viacom shares sank 8.3% in trading Tuesday, to close at $35.64, as investors worried about the impact of a Dish blackout on the conglom’s earnings. The stock opened at $39.37 but fell swiftly after Viacom issued its statement on the status of its negotiations with Dish around 12:15 p.m. ET. On the other hand, Dish shares inched up 1.7% to $47.32.

“We are extremely disappointed that DISH has not engaged in a serious way to reach an agreement for Viacom’s number one family of cable networks, including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, VH1, MTV, BET, Spike, TV Land and CMT. This is par for the course for DISH, which has deliberately derailed ten renewal negotiations since last year by engaging in unproductive discussions and contentious public battles,” Viacom said in a statement.

Dish accused Viacom of forcing the deadline issue by terminating what had been an open-ended contract extension even as the sides were making “meaningful progress,” in Dish’s view, in negotiations.

“Viacom is asking hundreds of millions of dollars in increases, despite the changing landscape  that includes drastically reduced viewership of Viacom channels and wide availability of their content across multiple platforms, frustrating consumers who don’t want to pay twice for the same content,” Dish Network said in a statement. “DISH will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that works for both sides.”

The threat of losing Dish’s roughly 14 million subscribers has been a cloud over Viacom shares for the past few months. Despite the saber-rattling, analysts believe that the sides will eventually come to terms even if channels go dark for a period of time. The sharp drop in Viacom’s share price during the past year means that the prospect of a less-than-stellar renewal pact with Dish is already baked into the stock.

“We still believe the most likely outcome is a renewal, as neither player is in a competitively strong position and would run serious risks by walking away from a deal,” Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz wrote in a research note Tuesday. “Even if Dish is able to force Viacom into a suboptimal deal that triggers (most favored nations) clauses with other carriers, we think the current (Viacom) share valuation factors in such an eventuality, and that the resolution of uncertainty (even in a suboptimal way) would likely be met with some relief.”

Viacom said it has “made every effort” to set a renewal deal at the most attractive rates that it offers other distributors. The company accused Dish of making “demands that are impossible to meet in order to take our negotiations public and likely force our programming off the air.” Moreover, Viacom chided Dish for “further undermining their fundamentally disadvantaged business by driving their subscribers to switch to a different provider.”

Last year, Bernstein & Co. senior analyst Todd Juenger issued a detailed report calculating a $28 share price for Viacom if Dish were to permanently drop the company’s channels. On Tuesday he recirculated the report but noted that the “expected share price would look worse today” because of weakness in its affiliate fee growth guidance and at Paramount Pictures.

(Pictured: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart at this month’s MTV Movie Awards)

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