Cablevision sues Viacom for making it pay for low-rated networks

Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:49pm EST

Feb 26 (Reuters) - New York-based cable operator Cablevision Systems Corp filed an antitrust lawsuit on Tuesday alleging that Viacom Inc forced it to pay for 14 cable networks it did not want as a condition of carrying the media company's more popular channels such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.

The case is the latest flare up in the contentious relationships between distributors and program makers as the Pay TV industry's growth appears to have peaked. Viacom and its media company rivals regularly sell bundles of cable channels to operators as a common practice.

"Viacom effectively forces Cablevision's customers to pay for and receive little-watched channels in order to get the channels they actually want," Cablevision said in a statement.

The case is under seal and not available for public viewing.

A spokesman for Viacom did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the lawsuit.

Cablevision is seeking to have its latest carriage agreement with Viacom voided and it also wants Viacom banned from making similar deals involving networks it calls "ancillary." Cablevision says these less popular channels include CMT, MTV Hits, Nick Jr, Nicktoons, Palladia and VH1 Classic.

Last summer, Viacom blacked out its networks from the biggest U.S. satellite provider, DirecTV in 20 million homes for nine full days, marking the most high profile programming blackout to date. Cablevision competitor Time Warner Cable Inc has also complained about carrying low-rated networks and has dropped channels such as the arts-focused Ovation.

The case is Cablevision Systems Corporation, et al., v. Viacom International Inc, et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 13-1278.