The latest spat between a pay TV provider and a content company has gotten ugly, with both DirecTV and Viacom taking to the web, pointing fingers and calling each other names. That’s to be expected, in this day and age, as cable and satellite subscribers become innocent bystanders in the big fight over how much money these corporate behemoths make.
Usually, though, these fights only matter to the subscribers who pay a certain cable or satellite provider, and only really when their favorite channels go dark. In the case of DirecTV and Viacom, however, the carriage dispute has a lot more collateral damage, as it affects pretty much anyone who enjoys watching select MTV and Comedy Central shows online.
Like some other pay TV providers before it, DirecTV has taken the unusual approach of telling subscribers that they can easily access a lot of the shows that have gone dark on the web. And in a counter-move, Viacom has begun playing hardball, by taking down that very same online programming. There’s only one problem: It’s not just DirecTV subscribers who can’t watch those shows online — the takedown applies to everyone else, as well.
As spotted by BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield earlier today (free registration required), Viacom has begun blocking access to certain key shows online, including The Daily Show and Jersey Shore. (Interestingly enough, the takedown doesn’t appear to affect Viacom programming that appears on other sites — like, for instance, The Daily Show episodes on Hulu. A Hulu spokesperson declined to comment on whether its licensed programming would also be affected.)
The move is surprising, in part because Viacom — and particularly MTV Networks and Comedy Central — have been long-time proponents of putting full-length shows online. Early on, it made every episode of South Park available for viewing on the web, and also made it extremely easy for The Daily Show and Colbert Report fans to watch the shows online not long after they aired.
But it also speaks to one of the key issues that stands between programmers and distributors every time they re-up their contracts. And that is, why should a satellite provider like DirecTV pay billions more for content that is available for free (or cheap) online?
Frankly, that question isn’t getting any easier to answer, especially as Viacom has licensed programming from flagship network Nickelodeon to Netflix and Amazon. Some believe that those deals are part of the reason for a recent decline in ratings at the children’s programming network. Yet despite that decline — and despite ready availability of Viacom programming elsewhere online — DirecTV claims is being asked for a 30 percent increase in what it pays for Viacom programming.