NPR logo Clash Of The Huge Super-Media Titans


Clash Of The Huge Super-Media Titans

The Daily Show: This, and many other Viacom shows, may be about to disappear for a lot of cable subscribers. Comedy Central hide caption

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Comedy Central

Media titans don't come much bigger than Time Warner and Viacom, and right now, the two are locked in combat in a showdown that plausibly could result in Time Warner Cable customers losing access to Viacom channels including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon.

And it could happen tonight. As in, hours from now.

Why you might lose Dora and Stephen Colbert, after the jump...

In order for TWC to carry Viacom channels, the two have to agree on a carriage fee, which is the amount TWC pays for the right to carry the channels. Viacom is looking for an increase in its carriage fees, claiming that existing fees are unreasonably low given the channels' performance, while Time Warner is arguing both that it's a terrible time to potentially raise cable bills (cable reliably comes up whenever cash-strapped people start talking about making seriously household budget cuts) and that the ratings for most of Viacom's channels are down anyway (with the exception of Nickelodeon), so why would Time Warner pay more for them?

This one dispute includes elements of a barrel full of challenges that are facing media organizations right now. Television ratings are down across the board, so advertising is sagging, so the money has to come from somewhere. Subscribers are strapped, so the existing model, in which cable subscribers essentially pay what they're told to pay, has become precarious.

Time Warner also isn't happy that Viacom makes a lot of its programming available online (thus bypassing the cable provider), but in an interesting reversal, it's now claiming that it will use this fact to its advantage by telling its subscribers how to get their favorite shows online, presumably reducing the customer fury that will be unleashed if the channels disappear and allowing it to hold out longer.

This is one of those quietly simmering disputes that everyone assumes will be resolved at the last minute until all of a sudden it just...isn't. It probably won't be allowed to go on for very long, but don't be surprised if this particular game of chicken does result in a day or two of lost programming.