Viacom, a major TV content provider, and DirecTV, a major satellite TV distributor, are fighting it out over how much DirecTV has to pay Viacom. The result is that Viacom turned off 26 of its channels including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, that's it's been providing DirecTV. That's bad news for DirecTV customers. Then, it got worse. Viacom started blocking some of its most popular shows content to Internet TV watchers as well.
For example, you can no longer watch full episodes of The Daily Show from the Comedy Central Web sites. Instead, when you try to watch say the latest full episode of The Colbert Report, you're presented with a Flash ad blaming DirecTV for dropping the channels and telling viewers to call DirecTV and demand that they settle with Viacom.
Really Viacom? Really?
Viacom spokesman Carl Folta told GigaOM that “We still have hundreds of long-form episodes online, for free, but we have temporarily slimmed down our offerings as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks.”
You can still watch some of Viacom's shows on Hulu and Hulu Plus. For example, I was able to watch the latest episode of The Colbert Report on both.
In a way DirecTV had dared Viacom to do this. DirecTV had set up a site, called DirecTV Promise, that explained to its viewers how to watch Viacom shows over the Internet. Viacom responded by damaging its own Internet presence rather than allowing DirecTV customers, or anyone else, easy access to their shows.
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Richard Greenfield, an analysis for BTIG, thinks, “DirecTV is making a critical mistake by allowing Viacom programming to be dropped.” At the same time, he points out that “Unfortunately, Viacom has not forced authentication for all online long-form content that it makes available on its websites. In turn, it cannot simply deauthorize access from a particular ISP’s domain to block access to video content the way it has threatened in past battles with distributors, such as Time Warner Cable in January 2009.
What I make of this is that Viacom is making a mistake. DirecTV customers already think they're paying more than enough for their television, thank you very much, and DirecTV seems to have gotten their customers convinced that Viacom wants to raise their rates by 30%. It's more complicated than that, of course. DirecTV could just eat some of the increased costs.
What this points out to me is just how vulnerable our TV watching habits are. We may wish that we could cut out the middleman from our TV, but we can't. Not yet anyway.
After all, DirecTV may not have considered one issue out when it pointed its viewers to the net. Some of those customers are going to realize that Internet TV - not satellite, not cable - is really the way many of us are going to find our TV shows in the future. On the Internet, with its a la carte approach to TV, both Viacom's “all our networks at our price” and DirecTV's distributor model are going to run into trouble.