Viacom-NCTC programming deal rejected by MPW


ViacomMuscatine Power and Water, a Muscatine, Iowa utility and digital cable TV provider, has decided that based on overwhelming customer survey feedback, its MPW DigitalTV will decline participation in the newly negotiated agreement between the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) and Viacom. It will remove Viacom-owned networks at the end of the month. Multiple NTSC members, including Cable One, also rejected the agreement.

“It was always our goal to keep the Viacom networks,” said Erika Cox, Director, Employee and Community Relations. “We expected that Viacom would make a reasonable offer that we’d be able to accept with minimal effect on cable rates, but that didn’t happen. Faced with the choice of accepting Viacom’s multiple, excessive fee increases, absorbing some of the costs and passing on some to subscribers, we decided to poll our cable customers, and the survey results were astounding.”

Based on an online survey conducted April 4th through 8th, MPW DigitalTV’s customer-owners voted and by a 4 to 1 margin chose to have MPW DigitalTV stand their ground and decline the agreement.

“This decision is customer-driven,” said Sal LoBianco, MPW DigitalTV GM. “It’s a tough call, but it speaks to our view that the cable TV industry has to stand up to the outrageous demands by programmers. As a community-owned Communications Utility, our motivation is to protect our customers — our neighbors — from significant programming fee increases wherever possible.”

Although the utility received a strong majority of support of customers for this decision, they note that it was not an easy choice to make because a small group of customers wanted to keep Viacom’s popular networks such as Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon. However, the agreement demanded that cable operators carry and pay premium rates for many other less popular networks with minimal audiences.

The overwhelming customer feedback, Viacom’s demands and the fact that the new agreement would have caused a large increase immediately plus additional annual increases for the remainder of the five year term, left MPW DigitalTV no other recourse, it says, but to proceed with the elimination of Viacom’s content.

MPW DigitalTV customers on Select tier and above are the only subscribers affected by the loss of the Viacom Networks and will receive a special rate reduction which will go into effect 5/1.

This is the first time MPW DigitalTV has reached an impasse with a content provider. While all content providers demand price increases, Viacom’s demands were considered excessive and unreasonable. In the past two years, MPW DigitalTV has participated with the NCTC in their successful renewal agreements with Turner Networks, A&E Networks, NBC Universal Networks and Fox Cable Networks. This year NCTC and MPW DigitalTV are confident they will reach new agreements with Scripps Networks (HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel), Discovery Networks and Disney/ABC/ESPN.