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Viacom to return to Suddenlink following Altice USA pact

Although the new distribution agreement between Viacom Inc. and Altice NV's Altice USA Inc. calls for a number of the programmer’s networks to be restored to some of the operator’s systems, it’s unclear when that reinstatement will occur.

Asked when Viacom networks will reappear on the Suddenlink systems, an Altice USA spokeswoman said "we will be communicating with our customers about packages in the weeks and months to come."

Suddenlink in a dispute over rates dropped Viacom’s full portfolio of networks in October 2014. A source familiar with the deal indicates that reinstatement on the Suddenlink system will cover a broader portion of Viacom’s portfolio, but will not materialize for a few months.

Altice NV purchased Suddenlink in 2015 and then Cablevision Systems Corp last June. That deal merged Cablevision and its Optimum systems into Altice USA, which serves more than 4.6 million customers across 20 states to form its current operation.

Under the leadership of new President and CEO Bob Bakish, Viacom has instituted a strategy focusing more resources on its six flagship brands: Nickelodeon/Nick At Nite (US), Nick Jr. (US), MTV (US), Comedy Central (US), BET (US) and Paramount Network, which will be rebranded from Spike TV (US) in 2018.

In a previous interview, Tom Eagan, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group, said he thought Viacom's future affiliate negotiations would extend beyond the flagship brands. He expects CMT (US), VH1 (US) and TV Land / TV Land Classic (US) to be part of the programmer's core affiliate pitch going forward.

The reconnection with Suddenlink comes as Viacom is engaged in a tiering dispute with Charter Communications Inc. in which the distributor is offering the programmer's networks on a higher level of service to new subscribers.

On the advanced advertising front, the Altice USA spokeswoman said Optimum has been a leader with advanced advertising products. With Altice USA’s purchase of Audience Partners, a provider of data-driven, audience-based digital ad services, she said the distributor can bring such capabilities to all screens. Viacom has also been in the forefront of advanced advertising with its Vantage product.

Under the new deal, the parties will provide advanced advertising offerings on both the national and local levels on TV, mobile, tablet and desktop.

Bakish on the company’s earnings call with analysts said the content provider has launched Vantage and other data pilots with two distributors.

It is unclear if the deal with Altice U.S. was one of the two relationships Bakish referred to on the call or whether it represents a third such initiative.

Viacom and Altice USA announced a deal on May 25 encompassing multiplatform targeted advertising, renewal for Viacom's network on the operator's Optimum systems in the New York DMA, as well as restoration of some of Viacom's networks on its Suddenlink systems. The new agreement includes rights for the distribution of digital and next-generation Viacom content, including virtual reality and 4K, for Altice USA's current and future offerings.