Mid-Rivers to Replace Viacom Channels
Mid-Rivers Cable Television has been in negotiations with Viacom, the owner of MTV Networks, since early 2014 in an attempt to come to terms on a new programming agreement for the continued carriage of Viacom’s networks. Following intensive negotiations that involved approximately 800 cable companies and 5.3 million cable subscribers nationwide, and included multiple extensions of the original March 31 carriage expiration date, the Viacom networks will be replaced by other programming on the Mid-Rivers cable system beginning April 15, 2014. Mid-Rivers' carriage of the Viacom network varies by system, but in total this change will impact the following channels: MTV, VH1, CMT, Spike TV, TV Land, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Nick Jr., NickToons, TeenNick, CMT Pure Country, MTV Hits, VH-1 Classic Rock, VH-1 Soul, and MTV 2.
Viacom’s final terms demanded a large rate increase in 2014 followed by additional year-after-year increases throughout the required five-year agreement. While Mid-Rivers is restricted from talking about specifics, the rate increase demanded by Viacom was over 20 times the rate of inflation and would have brought the annual bill Mid-Rivers pays Viacom to just under a million dollars. The Viacom agreement also demanded that the company continue to carry and pay for every current Viacom network, rather than only the key channels that most customers watch.
“The large rate increase necessary to keep these networks would have impacted all of our cable subscribers, whether they watch MTV and the other Viacom channels or not,” stated Mid-Rivers’ General Manager, Bill Wade. “This was a very tough decision. It is not something we take lightly and certainly not something we have much experience with. However, when a multibillion dollar company like Viacom demands an outrageous increase in monthly fees, it’s our responsibility to take a stand for our rural customers.”
In the past, the company has been able to resolve most contractual disputes without programming interruptions, but according to Wade, “Unfortunately we’re operating in a new environment where these huge media companies don’t have to present small operators like us with a reasonable offer.”
Fees from networks like these account for the bulk of monthly cable bills. Today's entertainment marketplace is changing rapidly, with ongoing consolidation among major media companies. When such mergers are allowed, they provide programming companies significant leverage over small independent cable companies like Mid-Rivers.
Mid-Rivers has chosen to replace the Viacom networks with other programming, rather than significantly raising rates to cover the increase in price Viacom is demanding for their channels. The approximately 20 new channels to be added by Mid-Rivers in the coming weeks will include Sprout (a 24-hour channel for kids and parents), Comedy.TV, FamilyNet (RuralTV), Chiller, Boomerang, Fox Sports 2 and many others. The full list of channels to be added will vary by community and programming tier. Fuse, a national network dedicated to music, will also be moved into a more widely-viewed tier as a replacement for the Viacom music channels.
The new programming will replace a total of 15 Viacom channels across various programming tiers of the Mid-Rivers cable lineup.
“We know that the loss of the Viacom channels is going to disappoint some of our customers, and we are very sorry for the inconvenience and concern this issue may cause,” concluded Wade. “We are trying to turn an unfortunate situation into a more positive experience, by putting on some new channels people have been requesting without impacting customer rates.”
Customers that may miss some of the Viacom programming can still watch many of these networks’ shows, both online and on other TV channels. The company’s website provides information for customers on where to find these programs from other sources.
Mid-Rivers Cable Television provides cable service in 18 Eastern and Central Montana communities. The company is wholly-owned by Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative, Inc., a member-owned cooperative based in Circle, Montana, which employs over 170 people. Mid-Rivers is encouraging customers to visit www.midrivers.com for the latest updates on this issue.
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