In its war with DirecTV over renewal of a distribution contract for 17 of its channels — including Comedy Central, Nickolodeon and MTV — Viacom is pummeling the satellite provider with an aggressive onslaught of attack ads.
Its opponent appears to be restraining itself. And it intends to keep it that way, a DirecTV spokesman told TheWrap.
Viacom is employing many of its most popular television characters and personalities — Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Snooki, SpongeBob Squarepants — in commercials that pillory and blame DirecTV for the current outage, which has left subscribers without 17 channels.
SpongeBob urged customers to switch providers, appearing in a full-page New York Times ad to proclaim "There are other fish in the sea." Viacom has also bought ads on radio that slam the satellite provider.
This is the longest carriage dispute Viacom has faced since a 46-hour battle with Dish Network in 2004 and the greatest number of channels ever dropped by a multichannel video-programming distributor, according to analysts at BTIG Research.
Viacom also created a website allowing users to type in their ZIP codes to find nearby alternatives.
But DirecTV has vowed to avoid taking out radio, TV and print ads, which spokesman Robert Mercer told TheWrap "really are a waste of money and just angers customers."
While avoiding a upfront counterattack, DirecTV has purchased advertising banners on heavily trafficked websites, such as that of ABC News, towing the company line that they are "working to keep your bill low" and "fighting for our customers."
"We don't want to add to the noise by buying a bunch of counter-advertising that will anger customers even more," Mercer said. "[Viacom is] obviously trying to ramp up the drama and rile up our customers."
Not that DirecTV has been entirely quiet — and admits it has been losing customers as a result of the dispute. "Of course some have left us," Mercer admitted. "But the numbers so far are very low." He declined to specify exactly how many subscribers had dropped the service.
For its part, the satellite provider has staged a two-pronged defense, via its nearly 72,000-follower Twitter account and on its website.
The company has tweeted links to digital streams of blacked-out Viacom shows like MTV's "Teen Wolf" and Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," hashtagged "#DirecTVHasMyBack" and has retweeted the flood of messages pledging support. Most episodes of the "Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show," removed from their websites by Viacom, have been restored.
Last week, DirecTV also posted a list of answers addressing frequently asked questions and refuting claims by Viacom.
Then, it posted a video on its site of CEO Mike White explaining the intricacies of carriage negotiations and promising to break the stalemate with Viacom — without having to hike prices to meet Viacom's price demands.
"You may have heard we are in discussions with Viacom over how much of your bill is fair to pay for their networks," a suited White says, perched on the edge of a desk. "Viacom wants to pay over 30 percent more. That's an extra $1 billion for the exact same channels you already received."
The problem is — they failed to load the 83-second-long video to YouTube or Vimeo until two days after a YouTube user named PennyLaner301, whose profile-less account was created that day, uploaded the DirecTV video with snarky, incredulous annotations.
It is unclear whether the account is linked to Viacom, but many have speculated that because the annotations are similar to those on the Viacom-owned VH1's "Pop Up Video" show.
The dispute began 10 minutes before midnight July 10 when the two companies failed to agree on a new carriage contract, as Viacom wanted to charge more for its content. DirecTV's 20 million subscribers lost Palladia, Centric, Tr3s, Logo, NickToons, VH1 Classic, TeenNick, Nick Jr., Nick@Nite, Spike, BET, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, Nickolodeon and MTV.
In a brief statement, Viacom told TheWrap that it remains commited to reaching a solution and, through the advertising, hopes to keep viewers abreast of its status.
"As we remained engaged at the negotiating table, we're also going to continue to reach out through ads to make sure they know that DirecTV has dropped our channels," a spokesman told TheWrap, "and what they need to do to get those channels back."