Local cable TV outlet in battle with Viacom

Groton — Thames Valley Communications is part of a nationwide consortium of cable-television operators fighting large rate increases from programming giant Viacom that are currently in the 11th hour of negotiations.

Bill Pearson, chief executive of the Groton-based TVC, said Friday that such Viacom-owned channels as MTV, BET and Nickelodeon could go dark after Monday if an agreement isn’t reached by midnight.

“We’re hopeful to come to a deal by Monday night,” Pearson said.

TVC, a cable company formerly owned by the City of Groton that was turned over to private hands after running up millions of dollars in deficits, belongs to an 800-member network called the Nationwide Cable Television Cooperative that includes smaller U.S. cable providers. Viacom already has agreements in place with larger cable operators such as Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, DirecTV and DISH Network to carry channels owned by MTV Networks, but Pearson said smaller local companies have less muscle to negotiate favorable rates.

“TVC is fighting, on behalf of its customers, against the large increases requested by Viacom in an effort to keep cable rates low,” the local cable company, whose territory encompasses Groton, Stonington, Mystic, Pawcatuck and Gales Ferry, said in a statement.

“We want customers to know that we are fighting extremely hard to negotiate lower fees from the programmers, so we won’t be faced with having to pass along the increases,” Pearson said in a statement.

Pearson said there are alternative choices to Viacom channels that viewers could turn to if negotiations break down. He added that TVC, in direct competition within its territory with cable giant Comcast, felt a “competitive urgency” to hold the line on prices.

“We have not dropped channels, but we have to be prepared,” he said.

Viacom spokesman Mark Jafar said the company would have no comment while the matter is still in negotiation.

Members of the cable TV cooperative that includes TVC are currently toward the end of a multiyear deal to carry Viacom channels. The cooperative has not indicated the exact rate increase, but said the fee increases being sought would be up to 40 times the rate of inflation, which in February was a bit above 1 percent.

“Viacom is asking for increases that are significantly higher than what larger companies, which can spread their costs over more customers, have been asked to pay,” said the consortium’s chief executive, Richard Fickle, in an interview with CBS.

Programmers have been known to extend shutoff deadlines if they feel progress is being made in negotiations with cable companies.

“We hope that our customers remain patient and stay united with us through this fight,” Pearson said.



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