DirecTV, Versus Could Split By Next Week

For those who live in Comcast Country, you know there is always something going on with the cable provider, and it usually has to do with carriage fees, sports and viewers nearly getting screwed. A few months ago, the NFL Network and Comcast agreed to terms that were so hotly contested, the carrier offered "sorry we’re dropping NFL Network" deals that included free premium channels for customers who previously had the football channel. Now, it seems, Comcast finds itself on the other side of the negotiation table, trying to work out an 11th-hour deal with DirecTV to keep the Versus Network as part of the satellite package. By all accounts, as the Los Angeles Times reported, it ↵doesn’t look good for Versus. ↵

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↵If a deal isn’t reached, DirecTV will be dropping Versus from its channel lineup on September 1, just in time for the start of college football season. In addition to becoming America’s only real hockey network (other than the league’s offering), Versus has somewhat transformed itself since 2006, when it re-branded from Outdoor Life Network. It’s not just international cycling and obscure lumberjacking events anymore. Versus has become, in essence, a viable secondary sports network in this country, showcasing Pac-10, Big 12, Mountain West football contests, Davis Cup Tennis, World Extreme Cagefighting, boxing and IRL events. And don’t forget about the PBR. ↵

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↵Versus is now available in 75 million homes. Well, next week that number could drop by about 24 million. ↵

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↵⇥"In our contract discussions, Comcast has demanded a deal for Versus that is not comparable to other providers and is pushing for a significant rate hike that does not reflect current market terms or the value of its programming," DirecTV said in a prepared statement. "We will continue to try and negotiate a fair deal, but we intend to hold the line on our programming costs and protect our customers against these unfair demands that are both discriminatory and wholly unrealistic given current market rates. If we do not reach an agreement, the network will come down on Sept. 1 following the expiration of our contract with Versus." (via multichannel.com) ↵
↵In other words, Comcast might be getting a taste of its own medicine, and that’s most of what this likely stems from. Comcast has slowly taken over much of the cable television universe, so when one of the other outlets can stick it to the giant, they’re surely doing it with a smile. ↵

↵And while Versus is in those 75 million homes, it doesn’t mean any of us are actually watching it. In fact, according to DirecTV, Versus ranks 61st among 74 English-advertising supported cable networks. No word if that number goes up, or down, during hockey telecasts. ↵

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↵Both sides claim to be working in good faith on a fair-market deal, but one has to wonder if DirecTV is turning the screws on Versus because the network is owned by Comcast. Or conversely, is the network trying to overcharge DirecTV as part of some weird, face-spiting, counter-intuitive plan to have the network on fewer television services, thus giving Comcast (the cable carrier) more exclusivity with the NHL and other sports leagues that have coverage deals with Versus. ↵

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↵Either way, if a last-minute deal isn’t brokered, millions of hockey, MMA, IRL and PBR fans could be left in the dark. It’s yet another scuffle with Big Cable (or, I suppose, Big Satellite), which as I said when Comcast ‘negotiated’ with NFLN this spring, is like watching two bullies fight over my lunch money. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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