Viacom pulls music channels from Optimum amid wider network reshuffling

Viacom
Viacom is rethinking distribution of its networks as part of an overall corporate strategic reboot.

As it continues portfolio tightening and fence mending under new CEO Bob Bakish, Viacom has pulled two music channels from Optimum and shuffled other networks on the cable service.

NickMusic and BET Soul were yanked altogether and Nick Jr. and MTV2 switched tiers, as first reported by Cablefax. Viacom rebranded MTV Hits last fall as the kid-focused NickMusic and rebooted VH1 Soul as BET Soul at the end of 2015.

Optimum had offered NickMusic in its residential Preferred, Silver and Gold packages as well as in the commercial Business & Entertainment Preferred tier. Optimum is also removing MTV2 from its Optimum Value package and replacing it with Nick Jr. MTV2 will continue to be carried in Preferred, Silver and Gold packages.

While it shuffles the deck at Optimum, Viacom is set to return to once-scorched earth, rejoining the lineup at Suddenlink, which is now owned by Altice, under a new distribution deal announced in May. The exact number or tier placement of the Viacom channels is not yet known, but the rollout has been promised by late August, Cablefax reported.

RELATED: Viacom CEO says $10-$20 entertainment channel bundle coming this year

The St. Louis-based operator waged a high-profile feud with Viacom under the programmers previous management. It dropped the channels, defying then-CEO Philippe Dauman to soften his negotiating stance. Over the three-year stalemate that followed, Suddenlink blasted Viacom for being “dead last” in terms of value per dollar, according to its customer surveys.

Viacom also settled a $10 billion channel-bundling lawsuit filed by Cablevision—Optimum's former longtime nom-de-bundle—in the fall of 2015 before its acquisition by Altice.

Bakish has implicitly acknowledged the pressure on cable programmers to streamline their offerings in a world of mushrooming content and OTT options for consumers. He implemented a new focus on six networks under the Viacom tent: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and the Paramount Network, which will soon replace Spike. That re-focusing of production spending and marketing resources comes as rivals also retool. Discovery paid a premium to acquire Scripps Networks; A+E is exiting scripted programming and Disney set ambitious OTT plans as it starts a withdrawal from Netflix.

The May deal between Altice and Viacom included provisions for upcoming VR and 4K content as well as advanced advertising. More than 90% of Suddenlink’s footprint will feature up to 16 Viacom channels.