Viacom Under Fire for Pulling Online Video After DirecTV Blackout

A public interest group and DirecTV are questioning Viacom's motives in removing much of its video content after getting dropped by DirecTV in pricing dispute

Forget DirecTV — Viacom has another foe on its hands after getting pulled from the satellite provider's service on Tuesday.

Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based Internet-watchdog group,  has declared itself "outraged" after Viacom pulled streaming video content from its online outlets, accusing Viacom of using the content as "leverage" in its ongoing dispute with DirecTV.

"Once again it's viewers who suffer when media companies stall in their negotiations. But the scale of Viacom's overreaction is unprecedented," Public Knowledge's senior staff attorney John Bergmayer said in a statement. "Viacom has decided to take a service away from all internet users in its attempt to punish DirecTV. It is apparent that Viacom puts little stock in the internet and the online future of video if it is willing to use all internet users as a pawn in its negotiations."

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Viacom still has about 4,500 long-form episodes of its programming online for free; however, it has slimmed down its offerings after DirecTV pulled its networks from its service over a price dispute. DirecTV has made note of Viacom's free online content in its objections to Viacom's request for a price increase.

DirecTV took note of the sudden lack of Viacom streaming video as well, questioning Viacom's motives in a press release.

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"Less than 12 hours after disconnecting DirecTV’s television viewers, Viacom is at it again by blocking all Americans who want to see their shows on the Internet. And that means anyone," the release reads.

DirecTV goes on to note that it had created a navigation tool on its DirecTVPromise web site "to help fans find 'Other Ways to Watch' Viacom’s shows online.

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"Unfortunately, Viacom shut off access for all users at approximately 3 p.m. EDT. Immediately after, Viacom began a systematic network-by-network black out of most of its sites’ online streaming," DirecTV's statement adds. "Viacom is now not only holding DIRECTV customers hostage, but all online viewers as well."

The satellite provider concludes, "Is this just another underhanded negotiating tactic, or does this mean that Viacom will no longer offer its content free online?"

DirecTV pulled the plug on the Viacom channels as of midnight Tuesday after last-minute negotiations fell through, depriving approximately 20 million customers of Viacom content. The company claims that Viacom is asking for a 30 percent increase in the fees it receives from DirecTV, totaling more than $1 billion.

Derek Chang, DirecTV's executive vice president of content, strategy and development, said in a statement that Viacom was pushing for the fee increase "despite the fact that the ratings for many of their main networks have plummeted and much of Viacom’s programming can be seen for free online.”

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Following DirecTV's decision to drop the channels slightly before the midnight deadline Tuesday, Viacom issued a statement claiming that it had "proposed a fair deal that amounted to an increase of only a couple pennies per day, per subscriber, and we remained willing to negotiate that deal right up to this evening’s deadline. However, DirecTV refused to engage in meaningful conversation."

A DirecTV spokesman told TheWrap on Wednesday that the two sides are still in talks, and that the provider and Viacom had "another long discussion" Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, DirecTV is offering eight Encore channels to its residential customers for free until July 31 as a make-up for the disruption of Viacom programming.