Nearly 17,000 Broadstripe cable TV subscribers could lose channels such as MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, VH1 and BET if the Anne Arundel County cable provider and Viacom fail to reach an agreement by Tuesday.
The dispute centers on monthly per-subscriber fees the cable company pays to carry Viacom's 23 networks. Such cutoffs typically are short-lived, lasting until the companies reach agreement.
Millersville-based Broadstripe, which serves 16,684 customers in northern Anne Arundel County and part of Baltimore, said Viacom wants to substantially boost fees to renew its contract. Broadstripe warned Monday that Viacom might require it to remove all its channels until a new contract is signed.
John Bjorn, CEO of Broadstripe, said networks and broadcasters are trying to make up for declining advertising revenue by increasing fees to cable companies.
"Its seems to be a trend in the marketplace," Bjorn said. "We're seeing this more and more from programmers and broadcasters. It's concerning to us, because obviously what they charge us ends up being what our consumers pay."
Viacom is negotiating with Broadstripe and hundreds of other small cable providers around the country through the National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents about 800 such smaller cable companies.
Viacom said the cooperative "continues to stall our conversations rather than work collaboratively and quickly toward a compromise."
"Viacom is committed to serving its audience and has been negotiating tirelessly for months to reach an agreement that will ensure no service interruption of its networks," the company said in a statement. "We are simply asking your cable provider for fair value for our networks, which continue to deliver more viewers than any other cable programmer, but cost far less to cable companies."
In a separate message to viewers on its website, Viacom said it is continuing to make "every effort" to reach an agreement.
The cable companies "have refused to negotiate with us and are choosing to drop your channels rather than productively work to reach a deal," Viacom said.
It urged cable subscribers whose companies are negotiating to call their provider and "tell them not to drop the channels you pay for and enjoy."
Broadstripe, which employs 67 people and has a local call center in Millersville, has cable subscribers in Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Linthicum, Odenton, Severna Park, Hanover, Brooklyn Heights and parts of Annapolis and Baltimore.
Neither Viacom nor Broadstripe would discuss specific rates, but the Anne Arundel cable provider said the requested increase is 40 times the rate of inflation.
In a letter on its website to subscribers, Broadstripe said Viacom's requested rate increase is not based on viewership and that such fees account for the bulk of the monthly cable bill. The cable company said it would give customers pro-rated credits if channels go dark.
Such content agreements typically run from three to five years, with an initial rate increase and more modest increases each year of the contract, Bjorn said. The current agreement, which expires at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, had a five-year term.
Broadstripe carries 200 channels through an estimated 40 to 50 program distribution contracts, Bjorn said. It has had other programmers keep channels on the lineup even through extended negotiations, he said.
But "Viacom has a way of strong arming us into agreeing to this increase," Bjorn said. "It has threatened to take the channels away. We would never voluntarily take down these 23 channels. Our hope is that Viacom will not interrupt these channels."