Viacom networks including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon went dark for DirecTV subscribers at midnight ET as Viacom and DirecTV squabbled over fees.
The outage came as a deadline in the dispute passed without a resolution. Both sides said in statements that no deal had been reached.
Viacom said 20 million customers lost their networks. DirecTV said Viacom is seeking a 30 percent increase -- equaling more than a billion dollars -- in the fees it receives from DirecTV. Those costs would likely be passed on to customers.
Derek Chang, DirecTV executive vice president of content, strategy and development, said in the company's statement that Viacom was pushing for the fee increase "despite the fact that the ratings for many of their main networks have plummeted and much of Viacom's programming can be seen for free online."
He was referring especially to struggling kids' network Nickelodeon, which began registering significant ratings slides in the fall.
Viacom, meanwhile, complained in a blog post that DirecTV had "dropped the channels without giving Viacom advanced warning," and that the two sides had not been in direct contact since 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. Viacom said DirecTV dropped the channels just before the midnight deadline.
"We are deeply disappointed that DirecTV dropped Viacom's channels before our midnight deadline this evening, severing our connection with its nearly 20 million subscribers nationwide," Viacom said. "We proposed a fair deal that amounted to an increase of only a couple pennies per day, per subscriber, and we remained willing to negotiate that deal right up to this evening's deadline. However, DirecTV refused to engage in meaningful conversation. We are hopeful that DirecTV will work with us toward a resolution, and stop denying its subscribers access to the networks they watch most."
In the hours leading up to the blackout, DirecTV subscribers were subjected to on-screen messages from both DirecTV and Viacom, with each claiming the other was to blame.
"This is f---ing annoying," tweeted DirecTV subscriber Christopher J. Ortiz, who posted the image above. "#Viacom and #DirecTv, you guys are acting like 5th graders. Half my screen is filled."
Seventeen Viacom networks are affected: Palladia, Centric, Tr3s, CMT, Logo, NickToons, VH1 Classic, TeenNick, Nick Jr., Nick@Nite, Spike, BET, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV.
Viacom said before the blackout that the two sides had been "negotiating for months" and that it had offered to extend its seven-year-old contract with DirecTV further past its June 30 expiration date. It also said the two sides had made recent progress in negotiations, but that "DirecTV has rejected all of our proposals to renew our agreement."
DirecTV, meanwhile, contended that Viacom "sent a letter to our executives forcing us to take the channels away in order to gain leverage against us in negotiations."