Suddenlink: Viacom Losses Are Minimal

Suddenlink Communications said customer losses incurred as a result of its month-long carriage dispute with Viacom have been minimal, a development that could stiffen the small-market cable operator’s resolve in future negotiations with other content companies.

Suddenlink just had its best-ever third quarter for video-subscriber growth — it added 2,200 customers in the period ended Sept. 30. Though that doesn’t reflect the loss of the more than 20 Viacom channels, which went dark on Oct. 1 to Suddenlink’s 1.1 million customers, it seems be serving as a confidence booster.

The actual impact of the Viacom blackout won’t show up until fourth-quarter results are released; those could also reflect intensified marketing efforts by Suddenlink competitors. But the early indications are encouraging.

“We expected to lose some customers, but at this point we are performing better than what we mapped out in our expectations,” Suddenlink chairman and CEO Jerry Kent said.

Suddenlink has signed on a string of new channels as replacements, including theBlaze, Sprout, Pivot and Comedy TV. The operator — which stressed it is not de-emphasizing its video product — also has argued that, according to its own research, ratings for some Viacom networks are down significantly in its markets.

Viacom has disputed Suddenlink’s research, adding that its channels are among the most watched by the MSO’s customers. “It’s tough to reconcile Suddenlink’s commitment to the video business with their decision to stop carrying their most-watched family of networks,” spokeswoman Carole Robinson said.

Kent said he was also encouraged in that customers who have disconnected video because of the absence of the Viacom channels have kept other services such as broadband or phone.

And though Suddenlink doesn’t have another major programming renewal due for at least a year — it does have several retransmission-consent agreements that expire at year-end — Kent said that its programming- costs stance isn’t limited to just one network group.