Hours after Suddenlink cable customers in West Virginia had several Viacom-owned channels removed from their cable lineups, the companies disagreed on how negotiations to keep the channels in customers’ cable packages ended.
The break-up comes after five months of price negotiations for channels including MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Spike TV, VH-1, BET, TV Land and CMT.
“The truth is, Viacom has rejected all our offers, including one we made [Tuesday],” Suddenlink corporate spokesman Gene Regan wrote in an email. “It’s unfortunate we could not reach an agreement, and we understand the frustration this will cause some customers, but we sincerely hope they’ll give the new channels a try and find those channels as compelling as others have said they do.”
Viacom spokeswoman Carole Robinson said that’s not the case.
“We were very surprised when they cut off negotiations a week early, on Sept. 23,” Robinson said. “They stopped responding or having any back-and-forth communication.”
Viacom offered Suddenlink a one-year agreement to keep its 24 channels on the terms Suddenlink proposed on Sept. 23, Robinson said, but Suddenlink refused.
Regardless of who’s to blame, Christine Stephens of Charleston isn’t happy about the move.
“I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship with Suddenlink and I can’t get out of it,” Stephens said. “For people who can’t have a dish on their home, we need a little competition.”
She’s said she’s already suffering from withdrawal from Comedy Central’s fake news show, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
“I just feel like Suddenlink didn’t consider their customers,” said Stephens, who’s been a Suddenlink customer for more than 10 years. “I’m not irrational, but I’m handicapped and limited in recreational options.”
For the $160 Stephens pays monthly for cable, phone and Internet, she said, she should have been treated better. Suddenlink rates will not change as a result of the channel switch.
Stephens added that she found out about the switch from Viacom, not Suddenlink. She spent Wednesday morning trying to find other TV service options.
Chad McNeely of Logan and his father are long-time fans of Comedy Central’s “South Park” and “Key and Peele.”
“And while MTV mostly died a long time ago, I can barely remember a time since the channel wasn’t on,” McNeely said. “The day we got MTV was a grand day — music videos and so many things.”
As a replacement for the Viacom channels, Suddenlink is now airing FXX, the Game Show Network, Great American Country, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, OWN, Pivot, Sprout, The Blaze, Up! and new family-tier channels Comedy.tv, Baby First, the MGM Chanel, Fusion Aspire and the Smithsonian Channel.
McNeely wasn’t impressed.
“To replace so many channels with ones I cannot imagine anyone asking for is all the more insulting,” he said.
By Wednesday evening Suddenlink’s Facebook page was filled with comments about the split from Viacom — mostly negative. Several parents asked what they should tell their kids when they can’t watch Nickelodeon programs, like “SpongeBob Square Pants” and “Dora the Explorer.”
Regan, the Suddenlink spokesman, wrote that, through phone and email surveys, social media polls and calls to its care centers, Suddenlink’s customers consistently told the company they do not value the Viacom channels as much as they value others, they do not want to pay significantly more to keep Viacom channels and they would like other channels added.
McNeely wasn’t pleased that he learned about the change from watching a Viacom channel. He knows all about viewing shows from online sources, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, but with an old computer, he said, clear viewing isn’t easy.
Suddenlink notified its customers of the possible changes last week through its websites, informational TV spots and legal notices, Regan said.
He noted that Suddenlink isn’t the only cable company affected. In June, The Wall Street Journal reported on 60 other cable companies facing similar price negotiations with Viacom.
“Despite our repeated requests for a reasonable offer, Viacom continued to demand a nearly 50 percent increase in payments and increased their demands even further when we asked for per-channel, stand-alone pricing,” Suddenlink said in a statement to customers on its website, www.suddenlinkonyourside.com. “Because Viacom refused to treat our customers fairly, Suddenlink was forced to make a difficult decision: As of October, we will introduce other channels our customers have requested through polls and surveys and not carry Viacom channels.”
Reach Caitlin Cook at email@example.com or 304-348-5113 or follow @caitlincookWV on Twitter.