DirecTV-Viacom and Time Warner Cable-Hearst battles get uglier

With millions of DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) subscribers continuing to go without popular programming from Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and Hearst Television, executives involved in the disputes are ratcheting up the rhetoric. 

As DirecTV's battle with Viacom surpassed the one-week mark, the top satellite-TV distributor said that it agreed to a license fee increase for Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and 15 other networks, but that Viacom is holding up the deal by insisting that it shell out $500 million a year to carry new movie channel Epix.

Viacom officials denied this claim. "We've offered DirecTV various compromise proposals – proposals without Epix, proposals with Epix, and proposals with significant incentives to carry Epix," Viacom said in a statement.

Time Warner Cable appears to be settling in for a long blackout 13 of Hearst's ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates that were pulled July 10. That has prompted executives at Hearst and the National Association of Broadcasters to accuse the MSO of refusing to negotiate in hopes that the dispute will prompt Congress and the FCC to rewrite retransmission-consent rules.

"It has become clear that Time Warner, as the leader in the lobbying effort to roll back the 1992 Cable Act, which was designed to preserve the health of local television broadcasting and has worked as Congress intended, has decided to hold its subscribers hostage in the hope that it can pressure Congress to intervene," Hearst Television president David Barrett said in a statement.

While Viacom's dispute with DirecTV is focused on license fees for cable networks--not retransmission-consent fees for TV stations--it's worth pointing out that the cable MSO and DirecTV have teamed up to lobby for reform of retransmission-consent rules.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt and DirecTV CEO Mike White have penned a joint op/ed on the topic, and they also met in person last September with FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Robert McDowell to discuss the rules.

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Still no Viacom-DirecTV deal, but companies holding 'active negotiations'
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