More than 5 million rural cable subscribers could be without their MTV and 22 other Viacom networks at midnight on April 1 if the content giant does not reach a carriage deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative.
The NCTC, which represents about 800 cable operators in mostly rural markets across the country, is still negotiating with Viacom and is hopeful they can reach a deal before the deadline. But unlike other negotiations which were decidedly more cordial, this dispute has the potential to turn nasty.
NCTC president and CEO Richard Fickle in an interview Tuesday said that what makes the current negotiations unique is that it could be the first time the NCTC is faced with a significant blackout of programming. And unlike earlier carriage negotiations, when the parties worked out their differences during 30-to 60- day extensions of old deals, no such reprieve appears to be coming.
Fickle said price is the main issue – Viacom is asking for a rate hike that by some estimates is greater than 40 times the current inflation rate. It is a premium, Fickle said, that is forcing small operators to make a hard choice.
“It may be the first time you see small operators saying ‘I’ve got to make the choice on whether I follow the traditional path and carry all these video channels or make some trade-offs and support growth in broadband and some other alternatives,'” Fickle said.
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