Showdown day: DISH subscribers could lose Viacom channels

The Viacom logo adorns the mass media company's headquarters, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

It seems like we’ve all been here before. There’s this big national content provider asking for a massive increase in fees, and the satellite company says no, and so we’re facing a blackout. This time the content provider is Viacom and the satellite company is DISH. Tonight’s the night if we’ll find out if it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.

As usual, Viacom claims that they’re asking for a tiny increase and DISH says it’s a massive one, and as usually they’re both right since even a penny per channel per month turns into millions upon millions of dollars per year in such a big company. Who’s more right? I would bank on the company trying to keep prices down, not the one who wants more money from you.

Viacom’s bold moves have gained widespread disapproval from the stock market; the stock dropped about 11% yesterday on news that the company hadn’t reached a deal with DISH. Viacom, which operates channels like Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, was once viewed as a “must have” for pay-TV operator but they’ve recently fallen on hard times, with flagship shows like “The Daily Show” no longer attracting large audiences.

The last time Viacom tried a blackout strategy, it was 2012 and their ratings dropped 33% in one week. That, combined with other embarrassments like their pulling their own videos from their own site, drove them back to the table and shortened the blackout. Yet, apparently they’ve forgotten those lessons just four short years later.

Let’s hope that a blackout doesn’t come, but the funny thing is that if it does, I don’t think people will care as much. Within Viacom’s stable, it’s hard to find a single “must-see” program. Even Dora the Explorer has lost some of her shine in the intervening years since the big blackout of ’12. Yet, that doesn’t seem to have stopped Viacom from asking for a big raise. That’s what I don’t get.

Folks, I say this pretty much every time, but there’s something of a disconnect here, at least for me. How can station owners and content providers come to the table and ask for more money when their ratings keep dropping? There’s a lot of quality shows on TV these days, but when I think of quality, I think of HBO, Showtime, Starz, and AMC. When I think of sports, I think of ESPN and the sports packages full of regional networks. When I think of Viacom… well to be honest I just went over to their “battle site” and seriously? The best they could come up with to bait me with was Teen Mom 2?

To DISH’s attorneys, I hope you’re fair, I hope you’re professional, and I hope you come up with a deal that benefits everyone. But if you spanked Viacom just a little bit I wouldn’t mind. Maybe you could make them realize that when your top offering is I Love Kellie Pickler you can’t be pretending you’re the top of the entertainment heap.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.