Viacom offers a galaxy of weeping stars to battle Time Warner

posted at 2:55 pm on December 31, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The battle between Viacom and Time Warner has begun to look like a messy divorce.  Viacom wants a significant hike in its fees for cable companies to carry its channels, but Time Warner says they won’t pay — and have threatened to shut off Viacom’s cable channels by midnight tonight.  In response, Viacom has decided to use its children-show characters as weapons in this fight:

Tapping emotional images such as a weeping Dora the Explorer and a distraught SpongeBob, Viacom Inc. is launching a marketing blitz Wednesday aimed at demonizing Time Warner Cable over a television-programming contract dispute.

Barring a last-minute settlement on fees, Viacom’s cable channels — including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central — will disappear from Time Warner Cable at midnight Wednesday. While programmers and operators often battle fiercely over contract renewals, Viacom’s campaign is notable in its willingness to pull children into the debate.

One ad shows the cartoon Dora in tears with the words, “Why is Dora crying?” The ad goes on to explain: “Time Warner Cable has taken 19 of your favorite channels off the air!” and suggests viewers call a Time Warner Cable number to demand that the cable operator restore Nickelodeon and its siblings. That ad is paired with another suggesting that viewers can get Dora back by signing up to one of Time Warner Cable’s rivals such as DirecTV or Verizon Communications. In another, the cartoon character SpongeBob is said to be “freaking out.”

Like most divorces, both sides have legitimate points.  Viacom says it only receives 8% of all licensing fees paid by Time Warner, even though its channels get 20% of all viewership, and it deserves a raise.  Time Warner says Viacom must be smoking the drapes if it expects families in a recession to pay more for cable television service.  The fight has gone down to the wire, and now Viacom wants to frighten the kids to make Time Warner pay up.

Viacom’s argument really doesn’t add up, though.  They make money off of licensing and advertising.  If they get better viewership than A&E, then they should be able to charge more money for it.  Time Warner should pay market value for the right to broadcast the channels, but won’t Viacom lose a hell of a lot more money by antagonizing Time Warner and its subscribers, especially through a heavy-handed ad campaign?  After all, their advertisers will lose millions of potential viewers at midnight tonight — and that makes Viacom’s channels much less lucrative for spending advertising revenue, especially in this economy.  They’re cutting off their nose to spite their face.

They’re not going to get much sympathy from parents by exploiting these cartoon characters, either.  Families in a tough economy are not going to make the expensive investment in satellite dishes just to get Nickelodeon back.  Instead, they’ll find other outlets for entertainment for their children, perhaps permanently.  One parent, my friend Chad the Elder at Fraters Libertas, notes the hard sell currently under way:

This morning, Nikelodeon has been running a continuous scroll warning of the channel’s imminent disappearance for Time Warner customers and urging them to call their cable operator to avoid this horrible fate. It’s a clever ploy by Nik to go after one of parent’s critical pain points: the shows their children love to watch. All I have to say is thank God we have Comcast. Don’t get a chance to say that too often.

Settle your own problems, and keep the kids out of it.

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Comment pages: 1 2

SouthernGent, call TWC and tell them you are switching to ATT, they will hook you up in a heartbeat, and say “NO!” to a contract. The deal won’t be as great, but, you won’t be locked in. I live in Raleigh, and I know they are concerned about switchers.

William Teach on December 31, 2008 at 9:17

TWC is included in my rent. I just know they had a rate in crease from listening to people at work.

SouthernGent on December 31, 2008 at 9:49 PM

It’s about 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside where I am today. A little TV never killed anyone.

This is why we have a nation of nitwits who cast votes on the basis of mindless pap like “hope and change”.

Read books–classics, not bodice rippers, and then talk to the kids about what they’ve read. And get a modem so your urchins can check in here.

FalseProfit on December 31, 2008 at 10:04 PM

Burn Notice, House, WWF…

Connie on December 31, 2008 at 10:12 PM

FalseProfit on December 31, 2008 at 10:04 PM

Not all of us have kids at home anymore (or even yet). I can read whenever I want. I received Bostom’s tome for Christmas and will balance heavy reading with entertainment.

Connie on December 31, 2008 at 10:19 PM

Settle your own problems, and keep the kids out of it.

And act like adults…..? Don’t be silly.

Hog Wild on December 31, 2008 at 11:55 PM

Settle your own problems, and keep the kids out of it.

That sensibility ended with the viewing of A Inconvenient Truth in the classroom.

Kini on January 1, 2009 at 12:54 AM

For those touting AT&T U-Verse: fine if you can get it. Here in Nashville, there is no U-Verse. They promote the heck out of it on their telephone “hold” message, but you can’t actually subscribe.

I went with their phone/internet/Dish bundling. I was quoted a whale of a deal. The bill came, and it was $60-something more than quoted. Round and round the phone menu roulette with no resolution. Then, a nice young couple knocked on my door. They were from AT&T, there to apologize for the “misunderstanding” on price; that I had been quoted the prices for Georgia.

My reply was that I expected AT&T to man up and give me the service for the price quoted, at least for the duration of the contract. THAT, it seems, they were not ready to do. So, I paid the service charge to have the Dish taken out and my phone service dropped to as basic as I could go while retaining the Ringmaster service. Even with the service charge, I was ahead of the game in two months.

Now, if they offered U-Verse I would not go for it. I’d have no assurance that they’d honor their price.

Their competition is ComCast, and I have already been through that living hell of “gotcha” pricing, or pricing that is a lie. Now, I have a digital broadcast converter and rabbit-ears. I make do.

friendlygrizzly on January 1, 2009 at 1:48 AM

Other than Noggin and Palladium, the rest of the channels can disappear for all I care. Nickelodeon has turned into nothing but a spastic mess of crap cartoons that numb kids brains. Noggin actually provides excellent educational content.

Palladium offers some great, hard to find concerts and documentaries.

MTV and VH1 are teh suck. Remember when they actually played videos instead of reality Obama generation idiot tv?

cannonball on January 1, 2009 at 5:17 AM

The media is saying that we have an Arctic blast of weather, but Al Gore is saying the Arctic is sorta like Floridian weather now due to global warming. So why is spongebob an icicle now?

eaglewingz08 on January 1, 2009 at 9:50 AM

And get a modem so your urchins can check in here.
FalseProfit on December 31, 2008 at 10:04 PM

Indoctrinating them early – before they can form any knowledge of their own?

sethstorm on January 1, 2009 at 9:50 AM

Well, Nick Jr. is on this morning, so evidently they haven’t pulled the plug yet.

I emailed TWC last night, reminded them that they didn’t seem to have any problem raising my cable rates and shuffling channels around to produce more “premium” tiers that I have to pay more for – got a reply, the same old crapola about “we can’t justify raising our customers’ rates in these economic times”, etc. Which is business-speak for “we won’t get to keep the insane amount of profit we already receive unless we pass the increase along to you dumb-ass television addicted customers”. I may just go to Dish anyway.

uncivilized on January 1, 2009 at 10:07 AM

This happen to me when I was living in Moscow, Idaho and going to University of Idaho, a great school I might add, I was using Time Warner and they had a fight like this over Spokane’s local fox channel. I hated it big time. That is why for this day I WILL NEVER EVER use Time Warner cable AGAIN.

A lot of people in Moscow, got dish and Time Warner lost a lot of people.

BroncosRock on January 1, 2009 at 11:53 AM

How tragic to hate a cartoon character….

AprilOrit on December 31, 2008 at 8:30 PM

So you’d show your kids those ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ episodes with Farfour and Nahoul, because nothing meant for the kids should ever be hated?

James on January 1, 2009 at 12:07 PM

uncivilized on January 1, 2009 at 10:07 AM

You should write time warner back and (tell not ask), tell them since they have not lowered your rates if they charge the same for less product (programming) they have in effects unjustly raised your rates and you expect a credit for the amount against your cable bill. Remember not to ask. You have to demand to be treated fairly or you’ll just get the party line back.

kanda on January 1, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Time Warner says Viacom must be smoking the drapes if it expects families in a recession to pay more for cable television service.

Don’t worry, Comcast will raise their fees for them.

I am so sick of Comcrap, but given my choices (Satellite or the “Fairpoint Communications” nightmare that used to be Verizon FIOS) I’m kind of stuck.

crazy_legs on January 1, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Crazy_Legs: no, you are not stuck. Shut off the set. Get an antenna and make do. If you need a converter box for after February, get one. 10 bucks with a government coupon.

I am not directing this toward you; it is a general comment: are the American people so in need to suckle at The Glass Teat that they wring their hands over something like cable prices? If TWC/ComCast/AT&T/Whomever are charging too much, get rid of it. It is not a necessity.

friendlygrizzly on January 1, 2009 at 1:38 PM

We have Viacom (no alternative except for Dish in our area) but it’s the very, VERY sub-basic package (only The Basic Viacom channels, shopping channels and the locals — over half of which we block with remote). Truth be told, if we didn’t have our internet connection through them we’d probably just drop cable altogether. If it weren’t for Discovery I doubt the TV would come on at all except to watch DVDs.

Besides, why would I want to watch TV when I could be HERE?? ;o)

Rethuglican on January 1, 2009 at 2:15 PM

Qubo – 24 hours a day of cartoons – free

corona on January 1, 2009 at 2:49 PM

Well, Nick Jr. is on this morning, so evidently they haven’t pulled the plug yet.

uncivilized on January 1, 2009 at 10:07 AM

They resolved the debate (no terms given, of course) 15 minutes before the deadline.

Snowed In on January 1, 2009 at 3:14 PM

How tragic to hate a cartoon character….

AprilOrit on December 31, 2008 at 8:30 PM
So you’d show your kids those ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ episodes with Farfour and Nahoul, because nothing meant for the kids should ever be hated?

James on January 1, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Hmmmm…hate is a pretty strong word was my point. I have no children, cannot carry from the radiation I received.

But if I had children I might dislike a few things, but hate?

Nah. Not interested in over extending my emotions quite that much – to include cartoon characters – my life is just too short.

AprilOrit on January 1, 2009 at 4:36 PM

It’s Nickelodious.

Dan Collins on January 1, 2009 at 5:47 PM

I don’t watch any of their channels but the folks at Time Warner are filthy nazis. Which side to choose… Which side to choose…. DIRECT TV BISHES!

Doppleganker on January 1, 2009 at 8:23 PM

Oh boo hoo! We live in a semi rural area with poor, overpriced, underserviced history for cable and high speed cable internet access. Who needs this TV cable/satelite crap? We currently get 30 plus HD channels off of rabbit ears — fine for most needs. If only the local Clearwire Wireless had a notch higher internet thru-put during peak hours, …

So go ahead, while I get out the popcorn, fight it out to the death… Many of effected customers are probably the same folks who can’t make their minimum credit card and house payments….

droofus on January 1, 2009 at 10:10 PM

I see daggers coming for me on this, but I can see a Reagan-esqe approach to what Viacom did…they went right to the people and had them vote with their wallets.

time-warner could have turned about and did the same thing and said, “Viacom’s demands for higher fees will force your cable bills to skyrocket. Call (Viacom’s Phone Number) and demand they recognize the economy!”

Of course, SpongeBob and Dora in tears are more convincing.

Black Adam on January 2, 2009 at 5:36 AM

I was watching the Westerns Channel last night (a premium channel for which I pay) and in between episodes of Cheyanne, ads for Weener Candy came on! I intend to write MediComm but know if won’t do a damn bit of good! I plan to cancel my premium subscription just like I did Sat. Radio because of Ads I was paying for…

sabbott on January 2, 2009 at 10:58 AM

Thank God I don’t have cable. DTV finds me out of that mess. Besides, Cable doesn’t have NFL’s package. Gotta have that. I can watch 5 or 6 different games on a Sunday.

JP1986UM on January 2, 2009 at 11:51 AM

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