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Japan bases on verge of losing Comedy Central, MTV, other stations

Cable subscribers at U.S. military bases in Japan may lose access to Viacom-owned stations, including MTV, at 7 a.m. April 2, if the media conglomerate and a cable company consortium cannot come to an agreement on Viacom's price increases.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Cable subscribers at some military bases in Japan could wake up Wednesday to find MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and other popular channels missing from their television lineup, cable company officials said Tuesday night.

Several thousand subscribers will lose all Viacom-owned channels if the media conglomerate and a U.S. cable company consortium cannot agree on price increases. Negotiations continued into the evening, but without the deal, cable subscribers will lose the channels starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

In a possible sign that negotiations are making progress, the deadline for an agreement was extended through morning on April 1, Eastern Daylight Time — the third such extension beyond the original midnight deadline, said Americable Japan general manager James Smith II.

Cable companies say that Viacom has proposed doubling its rates for members of the National Cable Television Cooperative, which would raise prices for about 950 small-scale cable companies.

While negotiations continued, Americable sent notices to its subscribers in Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, Sasebo and their outlying housing areas on March 31 notifying them that Viacom will cut off access to 10 basic-tier stations if negotiations collapse.

The channels include BET, CMT, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., VH1, MTV, MTV2, Comedy Central, Spike and TV Land.

Officials at Allied Telesis, which offers service to Air Force bases in Japan, and Mediatti, which services bases in Okinawa, were not available for comment Tuesday night. However, Smith said each company in Japan would be affected.

“Obviously, we’re trying to fight for the subscribers to keep the rates down,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do.”

Americable plans to make its expanded package — which includes 27 channels — available to its basic-tier subscribers if it loses the rights to the Viacom channels it broadcasts.

Current expanded-package subscribers would receive a credit, Smith said.

Cable companies like Americable cannot purchase Viacom channels separately, Smith said. Even if they choose not to air a Viacom channel, Viacom’s contracts require cable providers to pay for lesser known channels if they want to the rights to well-established networks.

The average basic cable channel costs cable companies 28 cents per month, per subscriber, according to analysts SNL Kagan in a September report by National Public Radio. The three most expensive are ESPN, at $5.54; TNT, at $1.33; and Disney Channel, at $1.15 per subscriber. Viacom’s MTV2, at seven cents, is among the cheapest stations available to cable providers.

Nine companies — Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Comcast/NBCUniversal, CBS, Viacom, Discovery, Scripps and AMC — control about 90 percent of the professionally produced TV content in the U.S., Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger told Variety magazine in November.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter:@eslavin_stripes
 

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