Viacom blackout on DirecTV boosts Disney Channel
* Nickelodeon ratings take a hit
* 25 Viacom channels dark on DirecTV for almost a week
* DirecTV says cancellations are low
By Liana B. Baker and Lisa Richwine
July 17 (Reuters) - Kids and their parents shut out from watching Viacom Inc's Nickelodeon on DirecTV appear to be turning to The Disney Channel, which is enjoying a ratings boost that could help the network even after a fee dispute ends.
Ratings for Viacom-owned Nickelodeon fell 20 percent last week when two dozen Viacom networks came off the DirecTV satellite service a week ago due to a fight over programming fees, according to Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger.
The loss for Nickelodeon benefited the Disney channel, which saw a 21 percent ratings jump for the same time period, Juenger said.
"The Disney Channel has picked up all of Nick's viewers and then some," Juenger said in a research note.
The Disney Channel averaged 356,000 viewers ages 2 to 5 each day from July 9 to 15, according to Nielsen data provided by Horizon Media. That compares with 271,000 for Nickelodeon. A Nickelodeon spokesman did not return a call for comment.
Disney sent out a statement trumpeting the Disney Channel's first No. 1 weekly ranking among preschoolers based on total day ratings. Programs such as "Doc McStuffins" and "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" lifted viewership among two- to five-year olds, the company said.
Juenger, the Bernstein research analyst, said he believed the blackout was temporary but that children and their parents may get hooked on Disney's programs in the meantime.
Twenty-five Viacom-owned channels -- including MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon -- have been off air for DirecTV's 20 million subscribers for nearly a week due to a programming fee contract dispute.
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said on Tuesday that "some customers have left us, but the numbers so far are very low."
DirecTV added the Disney Junior channel last week, a network targeting the lucrative market segment for 2-to-7-year-olds that competes with Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. DirecTV has also expanded a PBS children's network called Sprout to more subscribers.
Over the past few weeks, disputes over fees have erupted in the pay TV sector. DirecTV's main rival, Dish Network, has dropped AMC Networks, while Time Warner Cable is in a dispute with Hearst Television.
DirecTV shares 1.2 percent to $48.78 on Tuesday while Viacom shares lost a fraction of a cent to finish at $49.96. Disney shares gained 3.1 percent, closing at $49.35 on the New York Stock Exchange after an analyst upgraded the company's shares.
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