Cable Show 2011: Universal Sports Scores Multiyear Distribution Pact With DirecTV


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Universal Sports Network has inked a multiyear, multiplatform distribution pact with DirecTV.
Under the deal, the network will launch on a free preview basis to all of the No. 1 DBS provider's 19.4 million customers by early August. Universal Sports, which presents an array of Olympic-related sports, will then become part of DirecTV's Sports Pack, and other select packages -- placement on which have not yet been finalized -- on Oct. 1.

The contract also contains provisions for pay-per-view programming around Universal Sports' coverage from the 2011 Rugby World Cup this fall. Moreover, Universal Sports will jump into the 3D arena, as it will make select matches from that competition in New Zealand, as well as certain events from the IAAF World Championships, available to DirecTV.
In addition to its linear rollout, Universal Sports fare will be available under "TV Everywhere" platforms, encompassing the Internet, mobile and tablet devices. DirecTV is expected to make such offerings available in the near future, according to the parties.
Moreover, subscribers to Universal Sports will also have access to supplemental live Internet streams of events not aired on the linear network.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Universal Sports, a joint venture of NBC Sports Group and Leo Hindery's InterMedia Partners, is currently available to more than 60 million homes via multicast distribution, so the DirecTV deal represents a significant jump in reach for the service.
"We're very excited about this deal with DirecTV," said David Sternberg, CEO, Universal Sports, in an interview. "I think our ability to present content on any screen, any platform is one of our major selling points. This was big move toward this network becoming more fully distributed and financially viable."
Sternberg said he and members of the network's affiliate team were discussing those and other network assets at Cable Show 2011 in Chicago.
"We're in a lot of active conversations with a number of distributors and are confident that we'll be in front of lot more folks by the end of the year," said Sternberg, noting that the network is presently evaluating a range of new distribution models.
The DirecTV deal from Chicago follows another major piece of good news for Universal Sports over the past week -- the first emanated from International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 7, when NBC Sports Group retained the U.S. media rights to four Olympics from 2014-20.
"NBC is a shareholder, so it was very important to us that they received confirmation of Olympic rights for the next eight years. That is a positive for us," said Sternberg.
He said the network works closely together with NBC Sports Group on cross-promoting various events, a relationship whose ties extended to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Universal Sports gained access to news coverage and athlete interviews, a game plan that is likely to be reprised in London. Sternberg said he could not speak to whether Universal Sports would actually be involved in event coverage from the 2012 Games next summer.
The upcoming Games and events leading up to the quadrennial proved attractive to DirecTV. "With the launch of Universal Sports Network in Sports Pack, we are enabling the many sports fans across our customer base to discover the wide variety of Olympic-related sports coverage available on this unique channel," said DirecTV executive vice president of content strategy and development Derek Chang in a statement. "And it's a great warm-up for next year's Olympics telecast."
During the expansive freeview period, all of DirecTV's customers will be able to watch some of the world's top athletes competing in championship events from around the globe this summer, including the U.S. Swimming National Championships in early August; the third and final Grand Tour of the summer cycling season, the Vuelta a Espańa, starting on August 20; and the IAAF Track and Field World Championships later that month.
In September, subscribers will be able to check out Universal Sports' pay-per-view action from the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Further, the semifinals, third-place game and championship contest will be presented in 3D, as will certain events from the track event the month before, according to Sternberg.