DirecTV Seeks To Protect Exclusive Deals

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DirecTV said Monday that federal regulators should ignore arguments that the top direct-broadcast satellite company must be banned from entering exclusive programming deals with independent vendors.

DirecTV’s comments came in a Federal Communications Commission filing in defense of the $11 billion deal that would change de facto control of the company from News Corp. to Liberty Media. EchoStar and RCN, according to DirecTV, urged the FCC to impose the exclusivity ban as a merger condition.

“As the [FCC] has recognized on numerous occasions, exclusive arrangements between a distributor without market power and an unaffiliated programmer are pro-competitive, so there is also no policy rationale to justify the requested condition,” DirecTV said in a 23-page filing.

Last December, News Corp. agreed to swap its 38.4% interest in DirecTV, $550 million in cash and three regional sports networks in Pittsburgh, Denver and Seattle for Liberty’s 19% voting interest in News Corp.

Cable operators have complained about DirecTV’s exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, the National Football League out-of-market game package. Comcast, Cox, and Advance/Newhouse Communications -- owners of pay-per-view and on-demand content distributor In Demand -- recently waged a successful political battle on Capitol Hill to ensure that DirecTV didn’t tie up the rights to Extra Innings, the out-of-market package provided by Major League Baseball.

In the FCC filing, DirecTV said the exclusivity ban sought by competitors would be unprecedented.

“Were the request of DirecTV’s rivals granted, DirecTV would be the only [pay TV] distributor in the U.S. prohibited from such arrangements,” DirecTV said.

In a separate matter, DirecTV, which provides local TV service in 142 markets today, said it would meet a previous commitment to the FCC that it would serve all 210 local TV markets by 2008.

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