When the former TeleCommunications Inc. dropped several networks in order to cut costs in 1997 — including MTV: Music Television and VH1 — some viewers held rallies. Even rock star Don Henley showed up at one protest in Denver.
Four years later, another grassroots campaign is underway to help obtain distribution for The Word Network, a Detroit-based urban ministries and gospel channel.
These protests have been organized by the National Action Network, a civil-rights group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Some of NAN's tactics have unnerved cable operators. Among other things, the group has accused the cable industry of "institutional racism."
NAN-organized protests have been held in front of offices occupied by EchoStar Communications Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.
Last Tuesday, it was Mediacom Communications Corp.'s turn for a protest, which was staged in front of its Middletown, N.Y., headquarters.
The same day, NAN also organized a protest outside a New York conference where EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen spoke.
Some cable executives consider the tactics overly hostile, but NAN's efforts are beginning to pay off for the two-year-old Word Network.
Comcast Corp. recently agreed to carry the channel on its systems in the Washington, D.C., area. Last week, spokesman Dave Anderson said Charter is reviewing a contract to carry Word Network.
And Cablevision Systems Corp. spokesman Keith Cocozza said officials from that MSO also met with Word executives last week to discuss carrying the channel.
Word Network officials insist that they haven't asked Sharpton and NAN to protest specific cable companies. Rather, they're simply keeping NAN posted on talks with cable operators.
"We report the facts to the National Action Network, and to the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition (the group run by the Rev. Jesse Jackson)," said Word Network vice president of operations Louis Gibbs. "Then, they take those facts and react to them."
Mediacom senior vice president John Pascarelli said executives met with Word Network president Kevin Adell on Wednesday, the day after about 110 protesters rallied for Word in Middletown. He said Mediacom agreed to the meeting last Monday, the day before the protest was held.
Pascarelli said Mediacom is considering carriage of Word, but has yet to reach an agreement with the network.