In Demand Downplays WWF Advantage

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Cable pay-per-view provider In Demand has no special plans to exploit the rift between direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. and World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc.

During its SummerSlam
PPV event August 19, the WWFE announced that it wouldn't license its next event —Unforgiven
on Sept. 23 — to DirecTV, because the two companies had failed to reach terms on a distribution agreement. This leaves more than 10 million DirecTV homes without pay-per-view access to the popular WWF; cable subscribers will still be able to purchase the event.

Despite this, In Demand executives said the company won't increase its marketing efforts or change its promotional tactics for Unforgiven
to capitalize on a potential PPV advantage.

"In Demand continues to enjoy a positive, productive relationship with the WWF and we will support their events," In Demand senior vice president of programming and development Dan York said. "We have no intention of becoming involved in its dispute with DirecTV."

But at least one cable-system executive is preparing to create a marketing blitz for Unforgiven
should DirecTV not offer the event.

"Anytime we have an opportunity to tout a competitive advantage, we should do so," said the operator. "The WWF is one of our most consistent PPV revenue sources and any additional revenue [from disgruntled DirecTV subscribers] would be welcome."

TVN Entertainment Corp. also said it would not add any elements to its current Unforgiven
marketing plans. But TVN senior vice president of programming and distribution Michael Klein did say the network would support cable operator efforts to tout the DirecTV-WWFE impasse.

WWFE corporate communications director Jayson Bernstein said it would be difficult to create a pro-cable marketing campaign in the three weeks before Unforgiven. But he intimated that such as campaign could take place for future events.

The company did place a note on its popular Web site (www.wwf.com), advising fans that DirecTV is not scheduled to distribute the event. It prompted them to "contact your local cable operator" for availability of the event in a particular area.

According to DirecTV, the dispute revolves around a "critical economic term" in its expired contract with WWFE that can be submitted to an arbitrator under the terms of the prior agreement.

WWFE has said it won't consider a new deal with DirecTV unless the DBS provider drops its arbitration action against the wrestling promotion, said DirecTV senior vice president of programming acquisitions Michael Thornton.

"They are behaving like a monopolistic company by blatantly saying it would not offer its [PPV programming] to DirecTV," said Thornton. "The WWF is very important to our PPV revenue numbers and it's something that our customers like. We feel we're being held over a barrel."

Bernstein said only that it's "unfortunate" that DirecTV chose to litigate the dispute, adding that it's now "unlikely" that the company will reach a deal before the September Unforgiven
event.

The potential loss of WWF PPV revenue would be a major blow to DirecTV. Pro wrestling is the only consistent PPV event revenue source in the industry today.

Through June, wrestling events generated $135.7 million in PPV revenue, or about 72 percent of all PPV-event revenue, according to Showtime Event Television figures.

In other pro-wrestling news, Black Entertainment Television is in discussions with the Urban Wrestling Alliance about televising a series of weekly shows.

BET officials confirmed the network was talking with the South Florida-based UWA, which features a combination of pro-wrestling action and rap music, but said no distribution deal has been completed.

"We've had some preliminary discussions about formalizing an agreement with the UWA, but any reports of a completed deal are premature," BET spokesman Michael Lewellen said.

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