The American Cable Association yesterday accused Viacom of blocking customers of at least two small cable companies from accessing the Viacom website. According to a press release issued by the ACA, the cablecos — CableONE and Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico — are companies that opted not to renew agreements to carry Viacom content.
Viacom confirmed the allegations were true. In a statement the company said, “Cable ONE and Liberty Cablevision have chosen to no longer carry Viacom programming and, as a result, it is no longer available to their customers in any form.”
The Viacom dispute
According to some other small cablecos whose agreements with Viacom were due for renewal recently, Viacom has been asking for unusually high rate increases. And apparently some small cablecos are opting to do without Viacom content rather than pay the increased prices.
The ACA said it “fully expects the list of small cable operators targeted by Viacom to grow based on preliminary information from dozens of ACA members who did not renew with Viacom.”
Through the Viacom website virtually any U.S. Internet user until now has been able to watch recent episodes of popular Viacom content such as Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Potentially such content could serve as at least a partial replacement for Viacom cable channels for cablecos that choose to go without them.
Some other sites such as Hulu also offer the Viacom video content. It is not clear if end users blocked from Viacom’s site would be able to access the same content through a different site, but Viacom’s statement suggests not.
ACA seeks public support
In yesterday’s press release, ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka attempted to drum up public support for the blocked cable companies. “All who care about ensuring access to content on the Internet should be outraged that Viacom is selectively blocking access to its public websites by broadband Internet subscribers served by smaller cable companies,” said Polka.
Net Neutrality advocates have been focused on establishing rules to prevent broadband service providers from blocking customers’ access to lawful Internet content. But the supporters have not expressed much if any concern that content providers would be the ones doing the blocking as in the Viacom dispute.
This isn’t the first time Viacom has taken a confrontational stance toward pay TV providers.
When past contracts with content providers have expired, Viacom has not hesitated to pull its content while negotiations continued — or to advise customers of those companies that it was the pay TV provider’s fault that the content was not available.