Viacom on Wednesday disabled access to dozens of free full-length episodes on its websites -- from shows including Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and MTV's Jersey Shore -- after the media company's networks went dark on DirecTV in a carriage-fee dispute.
Shows for which full episodes are no longer available include: Comedy Central's Daily Show and The Colbert Report; Nick's SpongeBob SquarePants, Victorious and iCarly; Nick Jr.'s Dora the Explorer; MTV's Jersey Shore and Teen Mom; and TV Land's Hot in Cleveland.
According to a Viacom spokesman, the company is still offering hundreds of free episodes online but chose to pare back the number of full-length shows available because DirecTV is marketing the Internet video destinations as an alternative to the full networks. Viacom has always intended free online episodes to be a promotional marketing tool for affiliates, he added.
The move affects all Internet users -- not just DirecTV subscribers, noted BTIG Research media analyst Rich Greenfield, who reported on Viacom's removal of the full-length episodes in a research note.
"While this may upset ISPs customers that do not have DirecTV, we believe the consumers most upset will be those that are trying to find a way to access Viacom content no longer available on DirecTV," Greenfield wrote.
DirecTV subscribers lost access to 17 Viacom networks and additional HD channels shortly before midnight Tuesday. The satellite operator has been informing subscribers about how to access free episodes on Viacom's websites via directvpromise.com.
Meanwhile, DirecTV said on its website Wednesday that it will make all eight of Starz Entertainment's Encore channels -- including Encore Español and Encore Family -- available to all residential customers through July 31 on channels 535 to 542. "We expect the Viacom channels to return soon," the satellite operator said.
DirecTV claimed that Viacom is asking for a 30% rate increase, amounting to $1 billion over the term of the agreement. Viacom has countered that the increase amounts to only "a couple pennies" per subscriber per day -- although that would mean it is asking DirecTV to pay at least $145 million more per year.
Consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge said it was "outraged" by Viacom's decision to pull free episodes of its TV shows off the Internet.
"Once again it's viewers who suffer when media companies stall in their negotiations. But the scale of Viacom's overreaction is unprecedented," PK senior staff attorney John Bergmayer said in a statement. "Viacom has decided to take a service away from all Internet users in its attempt to punish DirecTV. It is apparent that Viacom puts little stock in the Internet and the online future of video if it is willing to use all Internet users as a pawn in its negotiations."