A March 31 deadline is quickly approaching for the 890 members of the National Cable Television Cooperative to sign a new retransmission deal with Viacom (NYSE: VIA) or lose access to a bevy of channels such as MTV, BET and Comedy Central.
Notifications are starting to pop up on NCTC member sites around the country such as RMA Cable in Rancho Murieta, Calif., which said in a post on RanchoMurieta.com that "RMA Cable and the NCTC are pressing Viacom to re-think the level of the rate increase."
If such re-thought doesn't happen or negotiations don't extend, "they may require us to stop carriage of their channels until a final agreement is reached."
NCTC has put up a website to inform subscribers about the impact of the dispute. NCTC members, who average fewer than 1,500 subscribers per company, could potentially be devastated were Viacom to follow a procedure of blacking out its 15 channels and encouraging subscribers to sign up with competing satellite operators.
Still, NCTC members face a dilemma because the Viacom demands are "so egregious that we as a company can't accept the rate they are offering," Gerrit Albert, vice president of sales and marketing for South Carolina's Hargray Communications, told the Island Packet.
Albert told the newspaper that Viacom wants 40 times the rate of inflation as opposed to "the usual 8 to 10 percent increase most programmers are requiring."
Hargray is already raising cable rates on April 1 and could, in light of a loss of coverage, perhaps reduce rates for customers, Albert said.
The American Cable Association, while not directly addressing the Viacom programming dispute, issued a press release urging the FCC to recognize the NCTC in its new video competition report because, ACA President-CEO Matt Polka said, "a report on video competition to Congress would be lacking if it failed to acknowledge the vital role of buying groups."
ACA pointed out that about half of NCTC members serve fewer than 1,000 subscribers.
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