Viewers lose out in DirecTV, Versus spat

| Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

Regional DirecTV subscribers were crying the blues Tuesday night because the national broadcast of the Penguins' game against St. Louis was not available on their televisions.

Versus, the national cable rights holder for NHL games remains unavailable on DirecTV due to a dispute over licensing fees.

DirecTV and Versus, which is owned by Comcast, are engaged in negotiations to resume a working relationship, which ceased at midnight Sept. 1, when terms on a new deal were not reached.

"It's very simple: DirecTV claims we are asking for a 20 percent increase," Versus president Jamie Davis said. "We've made an offer at the exact same terms in price and distribution as we've had in the past. They are unwilling to accept that.

"We've offered no strings attached at the old terms."

DirecTV vice president/press relations Darris Gringeri disputed that statement, though he declined to provide specifics of negotiations. He said DirecTV's offer to continue airing Versus was "fair."

"They want to propose an outrageous overall price increase," Gringeri said, adding that Versus turned down DirecTV's offer to continue broadcasting the channel during negotiations.

DirecTV is the service provider for 9 percent of the region's households. Versus is scheduled to broadcast seven games involving the Penguins in addition to last night. Games broadcast on Versus are not eligible to be shown by regional cable rights holders such as FSN Pittsburgh for the Penguins.

At dispute between DirecTV and Versus is the network's measure of success and, thus, its worth.

Davis called Versus "the fastest growing network on cable," and said this past September's ratings were the highest ever for that month. He also cited a 30 percent spike in NHL ratings this season.

Gringeri said Versus rated 72nd of 74 cable networks with an average of 7,000 household viewings for August, compared to ESPN's 125,000 household viewings.

One point Davis and Gringeri agree upon is the overall dissatisfaction of NHL fans who subscribe to DirecTV. Davis said Versus has fielded more than 125,000 calls, emails and letters from disgruntled hockey fans, and Davis added DirecTV has "definitely heard from customers unhappy with the situation."

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