Viacom blocks online videos in retrans fight, wakes up regulators

No Daily Show for you: Customers of Cable One, a smaller cable company with 730,000 paying subscribers across 13 states, have been unable to watch their favorite Comedy Central shows, as well as any other Viacom programming, for weeks. The blackout also extends to online programming, and now FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is starting to pay attention.

Viacom’s channels went dark on Cable One’s TV line-up in early April because the two companies couldn’t agree on how much Cable One should pay Viacom to carry those channels. Viacom wants more money, which Cable One isn’t willing to pay — it’s one of many retransmission fights, which we have seen happen frequently over the last few years.

And just like in some of those other conflicts, Viacom decided to play all of its cards and also block Cable One subscribers from their online offerings. Viewers who try to catch up on shows they’re missing out on the network’s websites have been greeted with an error message since late April:

cable one vs viacom

(Screenshot via Reddit user EnglishInfix.)

Cable One is not amused for being painted the bad guy:

Viacom on the other hand sticks to its take and puts the blame squarely on Cable One. A Viacom spokesperson sent us the following statement via email:

Cable One has chosen to no longer carry Viacom programming and, as a result, it is no longer available to Cable One customers in any form.”

Cable One isn’t the only provider affected by these types of online blackouts. Customers of Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico also can’t access Viacom programming online, and the American Cable Association, which represents smaller cable providers, estimates that dozens of its other smaller member companies could soon be affected as well. The group has been lobbying to get the FCC’s attention, arguing in a filing with the FCC that Viacom’s move goes against the idea of net neutrality:

“Viacom’s move to block a select group of broadband Internet customers regardless of whether they subscribed to the operators’ video offerings or not is inconsistent with the fundamental tenet of Internet openness that the Commission’s vacated 2010 Open Internet Order championed.”

It looks like the FCC is starting to pay attention to these complaints. Asked about the conflict, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during a hearing this week that it is a trend that “we should all worry about,” according to a Los Angeles Times report (hat tip to DSL Reports). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the FCC will, or even can, do anything about it any time soon, but the timing could help to put more pressure on the commission to enact stronger net neutrality regulations.