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Could a Time Warner-Viacom game of chicken boost online video?

The content push from television to Internet could get a boost tonight if Viacom follows through with a threat to pull Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and others from the Time Warner Cable lineup at Midnight. It's coming down to an 11th hour game of chicken but Viacom has shown in the past that it doesn't blink.

The content push from television to Internet could get a boost tonight if Viacom follows through with a threat to pull Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and others from the Time Warner Cable lineup at Midnight. It's coming down to an 11th hour game of chicken but Viacom has shown in the past that it doesn't blink. (Techmeme)

Of course, it comes down to money - Viacom is looking for more of it from Time Warner to carry popular programming like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Dora the Explorer. Time Warner, in response, says the fee hike is outrageous and that the programming isn't more valuable on January 1, especially since some of the top-rated shows are available on the Internet for free.

Dora on laptop

That's what's different today, compared to a similar game of chicken that Viacom played - and followed through with - against Dish Network back in 2004.  If viewers can't tune into these programs on their television sets, they can certainly watch them on the Internet and Time Warner has said it plans to inform viewers on where to find these shows on the Web and how to connect their PCs to their television sets.

What's also different this time around is CBS. In 2004, Viacom owned some of the nation's large-market CBS stations - including San Francisco's KPIX. At that time, the dispute came just as millions of viewers were about to tune in to March Madness basketball games. This time around, with the first round of NFL playoff games slated for this weekend, that's no longer an issue. Viacom and CBS split in 2006. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET and ZDNet.)

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson has been quoted as saying that Viacom is underpriced, compared to its peers, which gives Viacom this opportunity to demand more. In a statement, Viacom said:

The renewal we are seeking is reasonable and modest relative to the profits TWC enjoys from our networks. We have asked for an increase of less than 25 cents per month, per subscriber, which adds up to less than a penny per day for all 19 of MTV Networks' channels. We make this request because TWC has so greatly undervalued our channels for so long. Americans spend more than 20% of their TV viewing time watching our networks, yet our fees amount to less than 2.5% of what Time Warner generates from their average customer.

Nathanson, the analyst, said he is hopeful that both sides will resolve the issues quickly as Viacom doesn't want to lose viewers and Time Warner doesn't want to lose subscribers.