DirecTV Customers May Lose Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Others Tonight At Midnight

UPDATE: As of midnight ET, Viacom channels are blacked out on DirecTV, replaced by a loop of the satellite company’s CEO Mike White explaining DirecTV’s side of the story.

When broadcasters and satellite/cable companies duke it out over carriage fees, there is usually a protracted, very public build-up in the weeks leading up to the contract deadline. But nearly 20 million DirecTV customers could be caught by surprise tonight if a deal isn’t made with Viacom.

In all, customers could lose — at least temporarily — 26 channels, including MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, at midnight tonight.

The contract between the two parties, which Viacom describes as “ancient,” was originally set to expire on June 30 but was extended before that deadline.

In a statement released last night, Viacom claimed that “DirecTV refuses to consider a fair deal that recognizes the value of Viacom programming.”

For its part, DirecTV claims that Viacom is demanding a 30% increase in the fees it charges DirecTV for carrying its networks. The satellite company says this increase amounts to “more than a billion dollars extra.”

“If Viacom wants so much more, then we believe your family needs to be able to choose which Viacom networks you want to pay to keep and which ones you don’t,” writes DirecTV.

This slap-fight comes on the heels of twin disputes between AMC Networks and both AT&T U-Verse and Dish. In those cases, Dish held firm on its decision to not pay AMC a higher fee, leaving customers without AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WeTV; while AT&T U-Verse reached a last-minute deal with AMC.