March 10, 2004
Viacom v. EchoStar

It's another consolidated media catfight.

DISH Network owner EchoStar says it will do "whatever it takes" to soon resolve a fee dispute with Viacom that has darkened several channels for its as many as 9 million satellite TV customers in all 50 states.

EchoStar Communications Corp. pulled the plug on CBS programs in more than a dozen cities Tuesday and also dropped Viacom's cable channels -- including MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1 -- from its satellite network.

Though both companies publicly assailed each other after the impasse continued beyond an already extended contract deadline, EchoStar chairman and CEO Charles Ergen said they were still talking.

"We certainly are having negotiations with Viacom," Ergen said in a conference aired on DISH.

"We had more discussion today. I hope we can get your channels back. We'll work really hard, nights, weekends, whatever it takes," he said.

The dispute also left as many as 2 million customers without CBS shows, meaning they could miss the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament carried by Viacom-owned CBS.

"We have customers who are calling and asking, 'Where's my CBS?'" EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin said. "It's understandable that you would be upset if you lose your CBS channel."

Customers hoping to watch the disrupted channels instead saw a message accusing Viacom of asking for an unreasonable rate increase that would result in higher monthly satellite bills for EchoStar customers.

The disruption is the largest since 2000, when a similar dispute between Time Warner cable and ABC blacked out service to 3.5 million cable customers.

Man, I remember that epic battle. Talk about a Hobson's choice - who ya gonna root for, AOLTimeWarnerOfBorg, or Disney? I could get away with not giving a rat's behind now, but back then I was taping "The Practice" and was pretty pissed about the whole thing. At least this time it's not my provider that's involved, unlike Pete, who's getting deprived of "The Daily Show" even as we speak.

UPDATE: The two sides have now kissed and made up, so no one will be deprived of the NCAA Tournament or any other of life's essentials.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 10, 2004 to Bidness | TrackBack

It's rough, dude. I'm getting by on "Family Guy" reruns on Cartoon Network, but those can only last so long.

Posted by: Pete on March 10, 2004 3:41 PM

I was working at KTRK at the time. I was there when the content turned into a blue scrolling message.

I remember trying to teach two secretaries how to mass-fax and mass e-mail out press releases with some EXTREMELY simple software with pre-set distribution lists.

Written up instructions, days to practice... nope. They still couldn't figure them out.


In the end, AOL-TW got fined for dumping a station during a Nielsen ratings period.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on March 10, 2004 3:51 PM

Boy, I'm sure glad I chose cable over Dish! What would I do without my MTV? Seriously though, if I were a dish subsciber, I would be really peeved right now. I don't think this thing will last through the weekend, but if it does, there will be a subscriber revolt. The fact that the NCAA tournament is on CBS says it all. Content has gotten very expensive, and cable/satelite rates have gone up because of it. I mean, how high can my bill go?

Posted by: sean on March 11, 2004 8:31 AM

Dude, check out the full page ad in yesterday's Chronicle about EchoStar leaving viewers "High and Dry... without Spongebob [Squarepants]!"

I cracked up laughing, and plan to clip the ad for future room decoration.

Posted by: Jim D on March 11, 2004 2:15 PM

Is there anyway you could scan in that ad for me!!

I'd love to see it.

Posted by: JJ on March 11, 2004 6:39 PM

My sympathies lean towards Echostar, especially since they're the only major competitor to DirecTV (now owned by Rupert Murdoch) and cable (Comcast has the Dallas monopoly), and since they're one of the few providers willing to carry the progressive channel Free Speech TV.

Besides, it'd make a lot of sense to break up Viacom into its components (CBS, MTV, etc.) but there's no meaningful way to "break up" Echostar.

But since the Ashcroft Justice Department is even less likely to take action against Viacom than against Microsoft, Viacom really held all the cards in this dispute. My Dish Network bill has already gone from $22.99/mo to $24.99/mo, and now it looks like it's going all the way to $29.99/mo, which would be an increase of over 30% in under two years. All because of the content oligopoly of AOLTW, Viacom, Fox, GE, and Disney.

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 12, 2004 4:24 PM