Viacom is enlisting some of its best-known kid cartoon characters in a contract renewal battle with Time Warner, the Wall Street Journal reports. Viacom wants higher fees from the cable carrier for its channels, which could disappear from Time Warner's service at midnight tonight if no new deal is reached. A wave of ads debuts today featuring a sobbing SpongeBob SquarePants and a distraught Dora the Explorer, and urging viewers to contact Time Warner to demand the return of Nickelodeon and its siblings.
Viacom argues that its channels—including MTV, Nickelodeon and the Comedy Channel—draw a higher percentage of Time Warner viewers than their current fees reflect. Time Warner says Viacom is asking for double-digit increases that can't be justified in today's economy—especially when much of its content is available online for free.