Viacom mostly closes online loophole in fight with DirecTV

In a move that might be seen as nose cutting (to spite the face), Viacom (NYSE: VIA) has reportedly removed a number of full episodes from its websites as a way to prevent DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) customers from accessing the content while they're blacked out on the satellite service.

The thing is, now the Web content is shut off for everyone--including those who are not necessarily DirecTV subscribers.

BTIG's Richard Greenfield first spotted the takedown, which was later reported by GigaOM. A wide range of content is affected so "clips and older long-form episodes are still available but most current or new full episodes aren't being offered at Comedycentral.com, MTV.com or the other network sites," the GigaOM story said.

Viacom spokesman Carl Folta told the publication that while "hundreds of long-form episodes remain online, for free, we have temporarily slimmed down our offerings as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks."

The Viacom spokesman also said that Hulu and other partners who pay for the programming will continue to receive it and can serve it up to their paying customers as well.

To an extent, the move lacks a little punch. Comedy Central's comedic dynamic duo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are on summer break so there's no hot subject matter there. It's also tougher for the programmer to pull off because, unlike a cable operator, Viacom can't target just DirecTV broadband customers. It probably can't even find them--since they're more likely subscribing to some other cable or telco company.

The blackout does demonstrate the power and popularity of online video. When DirecTV and Viacom hit their programming impasse and one side or the other pulled the plug on 16 channels of programming for DirecTV subscribers, DirecTV told its subs to go looking online. Now Viacom is saying that it's not going to give away something that is valuable enough to attract dollars.

On a less contentious side, reports are that Viacom and DirecTV have started negotiating again, hopefully getting ready to resolve the impasse.

For more:
 - see the GigaOM story

Related articles:
DirecTV, Viacom license-fee dispute leads to blackout
DirecTV pulls Viacom channels, rejecting 30 percent rate hike
Viacom stock slips on news of DirecTV dispute

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