SBD/Issue 241/Sports Media

Versus Denies DirecTV Claims That Dispute Is Due To Pricing

Davis Says Versus' Price
Similar To Other Providers'
Versus President Jamie Davis angrily dismissed DirecTV claims that talks between the two bogged down in part over pricing. "They've been out publicly talking about price increases," Davis said. "The fact is that those market increases aren't true. We're simply asking them to pay what the other providers are paying." DirecTV said Versus was seeking a "more than 20% hike" from its currently cost of about $0.27-0.29 per sub. Davis described the dispute as centering on DirecTV's effort to take Versus away from 6 million existing subscribers. Davis: "DirecTV wanted to take Versus away from 6 million subscribers who were receiving it for no additional cost. That was simply not acceptable for us." Versus reached 14 million DirecTV homes, but the provider wanted to drop it to a lower tier. Davis seemed most perturbed by DirecTV's characterization of Versus as "a paid programming and infomercial channel with occasional sporting events." Davis: "If the quote-unquote 'leader in sports' considers the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Lance Armstrong's comeback as paid programming and infomercials, then I think the average fan knows they're not the real 'leader in sports.'" The two parties remain in discussions. Davis: "We're hopeful it can be resolved amicably. We're hopeful it can be resolved whereby DirecTV can agree to something where they're not going to take our service away from 6 million sports fans" (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Joe Flint notes the feud "is not an isolated incident," as Versus' parent company Comcast and DirecTV have "had a particularly acrimonious relationship lately." The two companies are "involved in arbitration cases over carriage of regional sports networks owned by Comcast in Northern California and New England" (L.A. TIMES, 9/2).

SEEKING SIMILAR TREATMENT: A DirecTV spokesperson said the satellite service is "asking for packaging rights similar" to Dish Network. DAILY VARIETY's Stuart Levine notes Versus is available on Dish Network "for a separate fee and not part of the main programming package." Dish's Classic Gold 250 package costs subscribers $47.99 a year "for Versus and other premium networks." Meanwhile, Davis said he hopes "things can be resolved amicably, but I can't accept a situation where Versus can lose 6 million viewers." Davis: "They didn't call us before they turned us off. Frankly, those who see us on DirecTV should consider switching providers" (DAILY VARIETY, 9/2). Meanwhile, CABLEFAX DAILY reports Dish "jumped into the fray" yesterday in announcing that Versus "would be offered to subs for free for 3 months starting today." While Versus "has some events coming up," such as the September 12 Texas-Wyoming college football game and the September 18 IRL Indy Japan 300, it is the "kickoff of NHL on Oct. 1 that is the biggest pressure point for a deal" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 9/2).

 
IMPLICATIONS OF DISPUTE: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote DirecTV has the "more difficult PR task, which is explaining to its subscribers why a channel some of them find essential to their viewing experience is no longer available, and with the justification coming down to a money squabble between elephantine corporations." And while this is "not exactly an easy sell," Wyshynski wondered if "enough viewers care about Versus to make a difference in these negotiations." Meanwhile, the NHL "has been patiently waiting out this scenario, knowing that it has a month to see it play out before its natives get restless." But Wyshynski wrote the situation behind the scenes is an "uncomfortable one for both Versus and the NHL," as neither "wants to see the season begin with 24.2 million subscribers unable to watch marquee games, which are blacked out on the NHL Center Ice pay-per-view package" when the games air on Versus (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/1). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Rory Boylen wrote it is "time the NHL got its hands dirty to ensure its investment with the Versus product pays off, rather than sitting idly by and telling the rest of us everything will be alright" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 9/1).

IS TIME ON THEIR SIDE? THE SPORTING BLOG's Chris Littmann wrote if there "was a time for Versus and DirecTV to go into a protracted contract debate, it's now," as college football "hasn't started yet and neither has the NHL." But if the dispute continues "into the start of the NHL season and the heart of college football, this will be really ugly for all sides" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/1).

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