Cable Operators

Universal Sports Says Distribution Deal Is Near

1/09/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Universal Sports Network,
having already signed affiliate pacts with
a half-dozen smaller providers, is nearing
a deal with a top distributor.

Universal Sports CEO David Sternberg
said the Olympics-style sports proponent
has been working diligently to close carriage
pacts with distributors throughout
the multichannel universe and expects to
announce a pact, perhaps as early as this
week.

The network, which inked its first licensefee
deal with satellite-TV provider DirecTV
last summer, had been carried as a multicast
service in many of the top DMAs.
However, Universal Sports announced last
summer that it would move to become a
traditional cable channel upon the expiration
of the multicast contracts with the
broadcasters on Dec. 31, 2011.

Sternberg said the network recently
reached carriage agreements with Alaskan
cable operator GCI, Hiawatha Broadband
Communications in Minnesota,
Cascade Communications in Oregon,
Waitsfield Cable in Vermont, MTC Cable
in New York and Internet-protocol TV distributor
SkyAngel. He said the service previously
had been offered through some of
those providers on a multicast basis.

Through the multicast arrangements
and the DirecTV deal, Universal Sports
was in front of some 63 million homes
in 52 markets last year. However, since
the network was retransmitted on digital
cable in only a select number of the markets
— and lacked such rights in many
others — it only counted 30 million actual
cable subscribers, plus another 6 million
over-the-air only households.

Asked about the expectation that
Universal Sports would lose a significant
number of homes during this transition
per iod, Sternberg replied: “We
acknowledged that six months ago. It
was a turning point, the decision that we
would no longer give the service away, and
that we needed our distribution partners
to step up and start paying license fees.
We had hoped to have a few more large
deals in place by now, but our timing was
challenging.”

Sternberg pointed to many distributors
facing retransmission-consent deals
and other business issues at the end of
2011, but he remains hopeful that those
executives will now have the “bandwidth,
figuratively speaking,” to address
Universal Sports. “We are still very
committed to our position and confident
that we’ll get deals done.”

To that end, Universal Sports could
announce a carriage pact with a major
distributor as early as this week. Sternberg
also said the network was “pretty far
along” with two or three others, and “we
could get to the finish by the end of the
month.”

March