DirecTV has notified its customers that it will drop sports channel Versus on Sept. 1 unless the two can work out a carriage agreement.
Versus, formerly Outdoor Life Network, was rebranded in 2006 and is the home of the National Hockey League as well as collegiate sports from the Pac-10, Big 12, Mountain West and Ivy League conferences, the Tour de France bicycle race, Davis Cup Tennis, the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), World Extreme Cage fighting (WEC), the Indy Racing League and Professional Boxing.
The network is available in about 75 million homes and is wholly-owned by Comcast. It is unclear how many subscribers the network has on DirecTV, which has about 24.2 million subscribers overall.
In a statement, DirecTV said that the dispute centers on carriage fees. According to SNL Kagan, Versus was getting about 18 cents per subscriber per month in carriage fees from cable operators in 2009.
"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."
The dispute comes weeks before the college football season is expected to kick-off - Versus is scheduled to air its first game (Texas vs. Wyoming) on Sept. 12. Versus also airs its first NHL contest on Oct. 1.
In a statement, Versus said that it is negotiating in good faith with DirecTV and hopes a deal can be reached soon.
"Since our last deal with DirecTV, Versus has added many marquee properties and has become the fastest growing sports cable network in the country," the network said in a statement. "Despite this tremendous momentum, we are offering DirecTV the ability to carry Versus the same way it does today at the market price for the network. We continue to talk and are hopeful that we will reach an agreement."
Since its re-branding three years ago, Versus has indeed increased its distribution: it is available in 75 million homes compared to 62 million in 2006 and has beefed up its programming lineup, expanding its college football coverage from 9 games in 2006 to more than 20 games this season, as well as adding other programming.