Your basic cable package is already aflame with the ongoing war of nuh-uhs between AMC Networks and Dish TV, but today there's news of yet another, even bigger dispute between a dish-based distributor and a cable programmer. At midnight tonight, DirecTV customers could lose all Viacom-owned networks—a package that includes Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Spike, BET, and CMT, among others—if the two can't come to some agreement over carriage contract fees.
The fight is over a proposed 30-percent increase that Viacom has demanded from DirecTV, which the satellite company, in a typically, "Hey, this is all for you" FAQ post, paints as an attempt to squeeze another $1 billion in charges from its subscribers, while declaring that it is "working to keep your bill low." (Or, as low as DirecTV's bills ever are.) Naturally, Viacom has its own ideas about what's fair, saying that DirecTV's current counter-proposal for updating its "ancient," seven-year-old contract with the company is far lower than the industry standard. Not surprisingly, they're currently at an "impasse" that could result in Viacom yanking all its networks from DirecTV tonight if it isn't resolved, and you making angry proclamations about switching providers before collapsing on the couch and declaring that it's too hot right now.
The bad blood between the two certainly isn't helped by the fact that distributors, bolstered by ongoing government investigations, are increasingly trying to combat the practice of bundling cable packages, rather than allowing you the option to not pay for CMT just on the off chance that you want to watch Toby Keith's Beer For My Horses ironically some drunken night. Also not helping: The dwindling ratings for Viacom channels like Nickelodeon and MTV, which have made it increasingly vulnerable to games of chicken like this. But their very public spat has also been egged on by DirecTV's recent posting of places where its customers could still watch Viacom programming online if they really wanted to, as well as suggesting that it won't even matter if channels like Nickelodeon disappear because "kids are off school and headed outdoors"—and besides, "the Summer Olympics are on the horizon, and many of us are on vacation… [and] Viacom doesn’t have all that much original programming this summer." Compelling, childish arguments all, and certainly in no way further encouragement for people to just sidestep this mess and switch to a cable-free existence.