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AT&T's DIRECTV could lose Viacom networks on March 22

AT&T Inc.'s DIRECTV subscribers could lose access to 23 Viacom Inc. networks, including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central (US), BET (US) and MTV (US), if the companies fail to reach a new carriage agreement by midnight on March 22.

As the deadline nears, Viacom is encouraging DIRECTV subscribers to contact the pay TV company and ask for continued carriage via crawls on its channels and a website, keepviacom.com.

In statements provided to Variety, representatives from both companies pledged to keep talking about renewing carriage, but blasted each others' tactics and motives. Viacom representatives suggested that AT&T was abusing its market power in the wake of its acquisitions of DIRECTV in 2015 and Time Warner in 2018. AT&T representatives said many Viacom networks were no longer popular with its subscriber base.

AT&T recently launched two new packages of skinny TV bundles that exclude Viacom channels: DIRECTV NOW PLUS, which will offer more than 40 channels for $50 per month, and DIRECTV NOW MAX, which will offer more than 50 channels for $70 per month.The new DIRECTV NOW PLUS costs $50 a month, a 25% rate bump compared to Live a Little, the base package it replaces.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, DIRECTV NOW lost 267,000 subscribers to end the year with 1.6 million. AT&T management said DIRECTV NOW's average revenue per user per month rose by more than $10 in the second half of 2018, and the company is likely looking for even stronger cash flow to pay down debt related to its Time Warner acquisition.