Viacom Not About to Give Up on Spike

Jun 23, 2003  •  Post A Comment

There was “rampant public confusion” among viewers and “chaos and loss of good will” among cable operators, production executives and advertisers after a judge granted director Spike Lee’s request to temporarily bar Viacom from renaming TNN “Spike TV.”
Such claims of network mayhem were among the highlights of Viacom’s court filings last week, which gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the initial turmoil and costs incurred due to the injunction.
The details failed to persuade an appellate court panel to lift the order, however, which gave Mr. Lee his second victory in his lawsuit against Viacom. The conglomerate can contest the decision at a hearing during the first week in September. Until then, the network will remain The New TNN.
TNN President Albie Hecht said last week that the network will not consider changing the name again. Also, in a prepared statement released the day of the appellate ruling, a Viacom spokesman declared the case was “far from over”
“We think today’s ruling perpetuates a flawed and perplexing decision with far-reaching First Amendment implications that go well beyond the significant financial damage our network has incurred,” read the statement. “We intend to appeal vigorously and still expect to be vindicated ultimately.”
Viacom claimed “spike” is a word that has been “widely used throughout the centuries” and is merely Mr. Lee’s nontrademarked “nickname.” By halting the TNN brand change, Viacom said the court has violated the network’s freedom of speech. Mr. Lee has argued that Viacom intentionally hijacked his identity as a filmmaker and celebrity personality.
According to Viacom’s attorneys, the June 12 injunction caused considerable turmoil at the network, which had only four days to change their rebranding plans.
“We had to scramble to revise the entire day’s programming on June 16, which was the first day of our launch,” read the appeal. “That entailed rescheduling every minute of the broadcast day, including scheduled programs, on-air promos, channel identifiers, `lower thirds,’ credit crunches and bugs or logos.”
Off the air, Viacom pulled advertising and marketing promotions left and right, including planned ads in Entertainment Weekly, Playboy and Rolling Stone. The network estimated it spent $30 million in nonrefundable marketing expenses to promote the name change and stands to lose millions more in advertising revenue.
“We have already obtained commitments from advertisers for 2003 and 2004 in excess of $100 million-specifically predicated on the use of the Spike TV name,” Viacom said in its appeal. “Should we be unable to use that name, these commitments would be in severe jeopardy.”
The court has ordered Mr. Lee to post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom’s legal expenses should he lose, a figure attorneys called “grossly inadequate.”
In Viacom’s appeal, the company noted, “The parties discussed the possibility of an amicable resolution of this matter” but stressed that at no time during discussions did Viacom consider changing its plans.
Mr. Lee filed suit against the network June 2 claiming Viacom intentionally chose the name to capitalize on his reputation as a popular director and celebrity personality.