Cable giant Charter Communications and programmer Viacom Inc. have reached a tentative agreement on a new carriage deal, averting a threatened blackout of Viacom channels such as Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central.
Negotiations continued well beyond a Sunday deadline, with the two companies announcing a truce Tuesday night.
"Viacom and Charter have reached an agreement in principle,” the companies said in a joint statement. “Spectrum subscribers will continue to have access to Viacom’s networks, without disruption, while we finalize terms.”
The tentative pact covers more than 16 million Spectrum customers nationwide — including nearly 2 million homes in the greater Los Angeles region.
Meanwhile, in a separate carriage dispute, Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications on Monday saw its channels taken off Verizon’s FiOS television and mobile service.
“We urge Verizon to put Univision back on and come back to the negotiating table and prove its commitment to the Hispanic community and show that it understands the value of Spanish-language programming,” Univision said in a statement Monday.
In its own statement, Verizon said: “Unfortunately Univision is proposing an increase of more than double what they charge for access to their channels today.” It said that the appeal of Univision’s programming is “waning” and that it provided “a reasonable offer.”
The disputes highlight the tensions in the pay-TV industry.
Charter, which acquired the Time Warner Cable systems last year, has been playing hardball with TV channel owners, including Viacom, in an effort to curb increases in programming costs, which contribute to higher bills for consumers.
Viacom said it was not asking Charter to pay higher fees for individual channels. Instead, Viacom indicated one of the main sticking points in the tense negotiations was Charter’s reluctance to carry nearly all of Viacom’s 23 TV channels in the basic tier of Spectrum service.
It was not clear Tuesday night what Viacom channels Charter agreed to carry, or the number of channels.
Viacom has been in a tough spot. Its channels are not as popular as they once were, reducing the company’s leverage. Viacom’s stock price has fallen 25% in the last 12 months as investors worry about its ability to continue to demand top dollar for its channels.
The New York company, which is controlled by the family of media mogul Sumner Redstone, has been trying to preserve its channels because they generate affiliate fees, which are important to the company’s revenue picture.
For its part, Charter is grappling with a huge debt load from last year’s acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. And like all pay-TV operators, Charter has been struggling to hold on to customers who threaten to cut the cable cord.
“We believe that the long-term partnership between the two is mutually beneficial,” media analyst Vijay Jayant of investment firm Evercore ISI wrote in a report Sunday.
Viacom shows such as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Paw Patrol,” “South Park,” “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” and “The Comedy Get Down” still draw large audiences, and viewers were getting nervous as the negotiations between the two companies went down to the wire.
In the last few days, Charter customers had posted more than 5,000 comments on the Spectrum Facebook page, with most of the comments decrying the stalemate between the two sides.
“Negotiate for the channels, because if not, I'll be putting your equipment in a trash bag on my front porch, and you can come get it before it rains next,” one North Carolina man, Mark Hull, wrote on the Facebook page.
Another customer, Letty Quinones, chimed in: “I'm canceling my subscription too... my son can't be without his Paw Patrol... And my daughter without SpongeBob.”