January 1, 2009

Viacom, Time Warner reach agreement

Viacom Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. narrowly escaped a standoff that would have left millions of U.S. subscribers with blacked out programming.

Viacom threatened to pull 19 cable channels, including Comedy Central and Nickelodeon from Time Warner's 13.3 million subscribers until a deal was reached between the two companies less than a day into the new year, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Shortly after midnight in New York, Viacom granted Time Warner an extension as customer service centers were flooded with calls from angry viewers, who feared they would lose their favorite shows, the Times said.

Huge price increases like what Viacom is demanding threaten the ultimate value of cable TV, Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt said earlier Wednesday.

Viacom, however, bought newspaper ads encouraging customers to complain, a strategy that seemed to work.

Our family will cancel Time Warner if a suitable agreement is not reached, said San Diego mom Debra Cooper.

I admit SpongeBob's laugh drives me nuts, but he is part of our family, she said, referring to cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

The companies settled on a rate hike of about 12 percent, the Times said.