Suddenlink, the midsized MVPD now part of Altice USA, has begun restoring Viacom networks in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, the beginning of a full reset across its nationwide footprint.
The move, which started Monday, formally resolves a carriage dispute that went far beyond the spats that have become all too common in these rebundling times. This fight was a three-year standoff that in many ways symbolized Viacom’s strategic missteps during the latter years of ex-CEO Philippe Dauman's tenure. Yet neither did Suddenlink come away unscathed.
Beyond the two initial states and Monday’s launch date, a spokesperson for Altice declined to provide FierceCable further specifics about the timetable or regional plan for the return, or which networks would be rejoining Suddenlink. The news was first announced in May as part of an overall new distribution deal between Altice USA and Viacom.
The breakthrough at Suddenlink comes as Viacom also shuffles the deck on Optimum—also now owned by Altice. This week, it pulled two of its music networks altogether and is moving Nick Jr. to a basic tier, swapping it with MTV2, which moved to premium.
Former Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent insisted dropping Viacom channels was the right move, even though it cost them a low single-digit percentage of their basic video subscribers. The company’s cost structure before and after the drop was “like night and day,” he told Wall Street analysts in 2015. “I have no doubt we made the right financial decision and the right customer-impacting decision.”
The overall number of carriage disputes, some stretching on for years (shoutout to you Los Angeles Dodgers fans) has continued to rise markedly as the nature of the traditional cable bundle undergoes dramatic change. Skinny-bundle services like Sling TV and DirecTV Now, along with individual OTT offerings, have altered the landscape and cord-cutting continues apace.
Reliable carriage fee increases are no longer a given for programmers, and the distribution landscape has undergone a wave of consolidation as MVPDs seek more leverage. Just ask Disney, whose experience with ESPN has come to typify the struggles of an industry that is still plenty profitable but losing ground as deep-pocketed tech players disrupt their decades-old position.