ACA Blasts Viacom For Running ‘Drop’ Crawl

The American Cable Association Wednesday blasted Viacom for running a crawl to subscribers across the country warning that its MTV Networks channels could be dropped, not just directing that message to the Time Warner customers who could actually lose those channels at midnight New Year’s Eve.

The ACA said that its member cable operators had to field angry and concerned calls from non-Time Warner subscribers who feared they would lose channels like MTV and Nickelodeon after Viacom’s cable channels ran the crawl to its more than 82 million subscriber base.

The ACA demanded that Viacom pull the crawl, which it characterized as a “national misinformation campaign.” The media giant said it was discontinuing the crawl, as had previously been planned.

Time Warner and Viacom are in a contract dispute that could result in the channels coming off the nation’s largest cable company as of 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Viacom spokeswoman Kelly McAndrew said that technically the media giant couldn’t “cherry pick” and just run the crawl on Time Warner systems.

She added that the crawl’s language was very specific in saying that the dispute just involved Time Warner and Bright House customers.

“Attention Time Warner Cable and Bright House Network customers, starting tonight, you will lose 19 channels from your TV including MTV, VH1, Spike, Comedy Central, TV Land, Nickelodeon and Noggin,” the crawl said.

But non-Time Warner customers who missed the start of the crawl believed they were losing those services as well, and cable operators across the nation received phone calls, according to ACA president Matt Polka.

“Today's announcement is the latest ill-conceived attempt by Viacom to increase public pressure on regional cable operators Time-Warner and Bright House Networks (13.2 and 2.3 million subscribers respectively) in an effort to increase programming rates for the operators,” the ACA said in a press release. 

“The media giant's inability to geographically target today's message and its failure to consider the ramifications of inaccurately informing more than 80 million cable and satellite television subscribers that they would soon be losing access to 19 popular stations, has caused a public outcry among operators and subscribers around the country,” the ACA said.

"Viacom has shown reprehensible judgment today while engaging in what amounts to a national misinformation campaign against thousands of cable operators and millions of subscribers," ACA chairman and Wave Broadband chief operating officer Steve Friedman said in a statement.

"They seem to have no trouble targeting a specific operator when they refuse to pay higher programming fees and it comes time to turn off their service, so how is it they can't target an operator with a dangerously misleading message like this?” Friedman said. “Their reckless disregard is costing cable operators and satellite providers around the country time, money, and subscribers by the hour.  It must be put to a stop immediately."