Just as we were getting prepared for the latest round in the increasingly vicious battles between programmers and TV distributors, the Viacom fight with DirecTV took a new twist.
For the first time we can recall, the fight was extended to Viacom’s freely available shows online. The owner of MTV, Comedy Central, BET and many more decided that in order to properly enforce its blackout of TV shows from DirecTV it would “slim down” its Web offerings by blocking the latest episodes of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” These shows are usually available for free soon after airing on TV.
One issue might be that, to date, Viacom shows are ‘free’ in the true sense in that they do not require the online viewer to have a cable or satellite subscription — something that News Corp’s Fox has done. The idea is that you can watch these shows at no extra charge if you can “authenticate” yourself as a paying cable subscriber.
The really awkward part of this is that it affects everyone else who isn’t a DirecTV customer but wanted to catch up with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Viacom isn’t saying anything publicly so far on this part of the dispute but insiders point out there are nearly 5,000 shows available for free online and it had to temporarily pull some shows because DirecTV was pointing its subscribers to the free sites as an alternative for their lost shows. Interestingly, as AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka points out, the blocked shows are still available on Hulu due to a contract loophole.