Viacom Warning Viewers About AT&T Blackout

Viacom has begun warning viewers that its networks might be dropped by AT&T’s U-Verse and DirecTV.


The programmer started running spots featuring its networks at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. In one spot, Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Centrals's Daily Show warns that viewers could soon be missing out on Viacom's 22-plus channels and urges them to call AT&T to keep the networks available.

In a statement, Viacom said it was the top cable family on the AT&T service and said that it has made offers to AT&T that would allow subscribers to keep Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount while lowering cable bills.

Related: DirecTV Now Drops Hurt AMC, Discovery, Viacom

“Unfortunately, AT&T is abusing its new market position by favoring its own content – which significantly underperforms Viacom’s – to stifle competition. AT&T-DirecTV’s behavior is also consistent with a recent pattern of gouging their customers by charging them higher prices for an inferior product with fewer channels. Especially troubling, AT&T-DirecTV is marginalizing diverse audiences in its new DTV packages and threatening to do the same with their existing products,” Viacom said.

“Viacom is committed to developing strong relationships with our distribution partners. We have successfully renewed a series of distribution relationships representing more than half our subscriber base over the last two years and have not had a disruption in our service since 2014. While we continue to make every effort to reach a new carriage agreement, AT&T’s unwillingness to engage in constructive conversations unfortunately could force a disruption in service.”

AT&T, which acquired Time Warner last year, has promised to be aggressive about programming costs on its pay-TV services, particularly DirecTV, which has been losing subscribers.

In its response to Viacom’s move alerting viewers to a possible blackout, AT&T noted that Viacom’s channels have lost about 40% of their audience in the past six years.

We’re disappointed to see Viacom put our customers in the middle of their negotiations. We are on the side of customer choice and value and want to keep Viacom’s channels in our customers’ lineups. We hope to avoid any interruption to the channels some of our customers care about,” AT&T said in a statement.

AT&T noted that several times in past years, Viacom stations have been blacked out, calling the programmer a “bad actor.”

“Our goal is always to deliver the content our customers want at a value that also makes sense to them,” AT&T said. “We’ve always fought to get the best deal for our customers, delivering the content they want at a great value. We’ll continue to fight for that here.”

Last week, AT&T said it was raising the price on its DirecTV Now virtual MVPD service and rearranged some of its programming packages, removing networks from Viacom, AMC Networks and Discovery.

Viacom notes that if AT&T blacks out its networks on Friday, viewers will be missing key events including the Kids Choice Awards on Saturday and BET’s one-hour primetime news special American Injustice featuring Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who are also presidential candidates. 

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.