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Viacom pulls web access to shows as part of struggle with DirecTV

The battle between DirecTV and Viacom just got meaner. In response to DirecTV pulling all Viacom channels from its service over contractual disputes concerning which channels the carrier offers and how much it pays for them – Short version: Viacom would like DirecTV to offer all of them and pay more, and DirecTV would rather pick and choose (See here for more details) and avoid a price hike – Viacom has essentially decided, “Well, if your customers can’t watch our programming on television, then no-one can watch our programming online.” Is that a smart business move, or an extremely petty decision?

The content producer has chosen to remove online access to all manner of material, from The Colbert Report to Spongebob Squarepants, following DirecTV’s suggestion to customers to watch shows online during the Viacom channels’ absence from their service (“Fortunately, there are several things you can do, and we want to help keep you connected,” DirecTV explained on its website. “We understand that it’s not the same as watching it on your television, but hopefully it can help”). Now, instead of being able to log on to, say the Daily Show‘s website and watch last night’s episode online, visitors will be treated to an advertisement explaining the conflict between the two companies from Viacom’s point of view and firmly laying the blame at DirecTV’s feet for the “bad situation,” before explaining to viewers that “full episodes are currently unavailable.”

The shows aren’t entirely gone online. “We still have hundreds of long-form episodes remain online, for free, but we have temporarily slimmed down our offerings as DirecTV markets them as an alternative to having our networks,” Viacom spokesperson Carl Folta told GigaOm earlier today, and episodes are still available through digital avenues which make Viacom money (Hulu, iTunes). As a result, the company has taken the opportunity to walk the fine line of still keeping shows available for hardcore fans to keep up with, while ensuring that they’ll have to pay over and above their usual cable pricing for the privilege. Well, played, Viacom; now the pressure is back on DirecTV… or is it?

In this particular fight for the hearts, minds and ultimately eyeballs of viewers, both DirecTV and Viacom are trying to position themselves as the viewers’ friend, in danger of being overpowered by the other side who is, of course, greedy, manipulative and uncaring about what you, dear customer, really want. The problem with this is, neither side have backed that up with their actions, and this latest move demonstrates that easily: There is no upside in what Viacom have done other than to put more pressure on DirecTV, and any attempt to suggest that there was no alternative sounds particularly hollow. The best case scenario for both sides is that a quick fix is forthcoming, and the whole subject will be forgotten about quickly.

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