Innovative official says negotiations near completion to keep 17 Viacom channels


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ST. THOMAS - It appears that a deal is in the works between local cable provider Innovative and cable network behemoth Viacom, after a contract dispute threatened to remove 17 popular channels from Innovative's lineup.

Innovative Companies has been in a tussle with Viacom for the last few days, according to representatives from both companies.

While no negotiation had been made official as of Tuesday evening, Innovative spokeswoman Willa Fils said that officials were closing in on a deal for a new contract and that subscribers would not lose out on access to channels such as MTV, BET and Comedy Central.

Only two subscribers called in Tuesday about blacked out channels, Fils said, though she could not confirm that had anything to do with Viacom.

However, Fils said Innovative has received an onslaught of calls from subscribers concerned about losing channels after Viacom began broadcasting warnings that scrolled across Innovative subscribers' TVs.

"They try this all the time," Fils said. "They try to play hardball with us, to win us over. They do this by annoying our customers. We've gotten a lot of calls."

The notices are not a new strategy, according to Viacom spokesman Mark Jafar on Tuesday. Viacom is going through the exact same negotiating process with 800 other cable providers across the nation right now, he said.

Every time a contract ends, Viacom asks that the providers pay an increase in fees for the services that Viacom provides, according to Jafar. Viacom is asking for more in recent negotiations because it provides a greater service than it used to, he said, noting that television is no longer a simple medium and comes with recording and enhanced viewing capabilities.

The dispute began after a contract between Innovative and Viacom expired Monday.

Viacom threatened to cut its signal to Innovative at the stroke of midnight Tuesday morning if Innovative did not pay an increase in fees to the network, according to Fils.

Officials have not disclosed what the amount of the fees might be.

The initial requested fee hikes were more than 40 times the rate of inflation, according to a prepared statement Innovative issued Monday. The statement said the fee hikes were excessive and could fall on the provider's 23,000 customers.

The channels that Viacom holds power over include MTV, MTV2, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, BET, VH1, VH1 soul, VH1 classic, CMT, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, TeenNick, Nick Jr., Comedy Central, TR3s, Spike TV and TV Land.

According to Fils, the negotiations are expected to come to a close in a day or so and should not affect subscribers' access.

"It's looking positive," she said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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