Apparently Viacom and Time Warner Cable have been negotiating over fees for months, and haven't been able to reach a deal. Viacom said it wants an increase of somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 cents per month, per subscriber across all channels, including Nickelodeon, VH1 and MTV. That's pretty bold given the state of the economy, and given that Viacom this year moved more of its content onto the internet, where it can be watched for free, arguably undermining cable subscriptions.
But Time Warner is still jacking up rates in some areas, despite the economy. And Viacom overlord Redstone holds company stock as collateral for personal loans he is desperately trying to renegotiate. Staring down the longest advertising decline since the Great Depression, he's got to be eager to wrangle (for Viacom) whatever revenue increases he can get his hands on.
As Nikki Finke points out, these sorts of disputes are usually resolved within hours of cable systems yanking the channels. They should be especially eager to do so this year: The longer channels stay off cable boxes, the longer subscribers have to find their favorite shows online. The Daily Show is on Hulu now, after all.
UPDATE: Viacom is taking off the gloves with awesome/evil ads like the one up top, involving "SpongeBob Squarepants," and a similar one involving a crying "Dora the Explorer." The Wall Street Journal writes, "While programmers and operators often battle fiercely over contract renewals, Viacom's campaign is notable in its willingness to pull children into the debate."