Midnight Countdown -- to L.A. Cable TV Blackout

As of yet there is no sign that telecom giants Viacom and Time Warner Cable have settled

their dispute over new pay rates -- a no-prisoners battle that threatens to pull the plug on L.A.'s two-million Time Warner cable TV customers. At issue is Viacom's demand for an extra $39 million to be paid by Time Warner on top of the $300 million that the cable provider already pays Viacom for its channels, which include MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Among many other scenarios, this means that unless an agreement is reached by midnight, the Comedy Channel, with its popular The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, will be unceremoniously yanked from the air. (Satellite-TV subscribers are not affected by the dispute.)

Viacom has carried the war of words from the negotiating room to newspapers and, of course TV -- where ads using pre-school cartoon character Dora the Explorer urge viewers to complain to mean old Time Warner about its own greed.

The conflict between the two conglomerates seems to be lifted from a Marxist text book -- the kind with a chapter describing how it is that a diminishing number of monopolies struggle to maximize profits at any cost. Neither side should really worry though, because a third party will be picking up whatever the tab turns out to be -- the TV consumer. Ironically, when entertainment-industry guilds threaten to strike over expanded residuals and new-technology issues, the unions are made out to look like greedy, spoiled children. It will be more than interesting to see how Big Media poeticizes the result of the war of the telecom titans.

Update: Surprise! In the nick of time Viacom and Time Warner Cable made nice and agreed to make lots of money with a new, yet-to-be disclosed (or finalized) revenue structure. See Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily column for a story timeline and analysis.

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