DirecTV is threatening to drop VERSUS
from the channel line-up on Sept 1 (Tues)
when their contract exprires.
VERSUS, who has the exclusive cable rights to the National Hockey League, as well as the IndyCar Series and collegiate sports featuring teams from conferences such as the Pac-10, Big 12, Mountain West and Ivy League, is in danger of being dropped by satcaster DirecTV, the largest satellite television provider in the US, when their contract expires this coming Tuesday, Sept. 1. The channel is looking for an increase in rate fees, while DirecTV is looking to keep rates where they currently are. DirecTV has been running a ticker on VERSUS letting viewers know of the provider's intent to drop VERSUS should a deal not be brokered by the deadline.
“Since our last deal with DirecTV, VERSUS has added many marquee properties and has become the fastest growing sports cable network in the country,” VERSUS said in a statement. “Despite this tremendous momentum, we are offering DirecTV the ability to carry VERSUS the same way it does today at the market price for the network. We continue to talk and are hopeful that we will reach an agreement.”
VERSUS is owned by Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider.
Reached for comment, DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer noted that efforts continue to reach a deal before the Tuesday deadline, but made it clear, a rate increase is not favored.
“We are continuing to try and negotiate a fair deal, but we intend to hold the line on our programming costs and protect our customers against unwarranted price increases that may result from Comcast’s demands that we believe are discriminatory and unrealistic given current market realities.”
VERSUS enters the 2009/10 NHL regular season claiming that they are seeing double-digit ratings and viewership growth last year. VERSUS reports that the network saw a 27-percent growth in viewership for the playoffs overall after seeing viewership jump more than 20-percent during the regular season as compared to the year prior. Games 3 and 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final were the highest-rated and most-watched telecasts in network history. VERSUS also noted that those games were the most watched Final round on cable since 2002. Additionally, VERSUS aired the highest-rated Conference Semifinal and Conference Final rounds on cable in more than a decade.
DirecTV counters that those ratings are not as significant as they seem.
“Versus' overall ratings are poor and have not increased nearly enough to justify what we're paying now, let alone the significant fee hike Comcast is demanding,” said Mercer. “And ratings increases, such as they are, off a low base are not necessarily that meaningful.”
DirecTV cites Nielsen Media Research data showing VERSUS is only averaging 3,000 more viewers at any given time in 2008-2009 compared to 2006-2007, when they rebranded from Outdoor Life Network (OLN). For DirecTV’s selection of channels, DTV claims VERUS ranked 61st among 74 English ad supported cable nets in the DirecTV universe.
For fans of the NHL, they may not see a need to panic, should negotiations not yield a new agreement for carriage of VERUS on DirecTV by Tuesday. The first scheduled game for the network is opening night on Oct 1 with the Capitals visiting the Bruins. All told, VERSUS has a slate of 54 regular season games, as well as Stanley Cup playoff games, and Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
The real pain inflicted for sports fans may be those that are interested in college football games carried on VERSUS. The network has confirmed several Mountain West and Ivy League conference games including Texas at Wyoming on Sept. 12 (3:30 PM ET), Florida State at BYU on Sept. 19 (7:00 PM ET), and Cornell at Yale on Sept 26 (12:00 PM).
As to whether a deal will be brokered in time, sources indicate that tensions are high in the negotiations. But, as one close to the activity said, they believed a deal would be reached by the 11th hour. “VERSUS has made considerable in-roads over the last year,” the source said. “But, at the end of the day, VERSUS needs to continue to grow their footprint, and cannot do so without DirecTV.”
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