The carriage dispute between DirecTV and sports network Versus has resulted in the service going dark on the No. 1 satellite provider.
DirecTV, in a statement early this morning, said that Comcast, which owns Versus, "has forced us to take down the channel because we will not agree to their ridiculous demands that simply do not reflect current market valuations for their programming." The contract expired at midnight on Sept. 1.
Versus, which has a different view of the distribution proceedings, responded with its own statement: "On behalf of millions of passionate sports fans, we are disappointed that DirecTV has chosen to remove Versus from its service and deny their subscribers access to our all-encompassing coverage of the sports they love. Since our last deal with DirecTV, Versus has added many marquee properties and has become one of the fastest-growing sports cable networks in the country. Versus offered DirecTV a fair and reasonable offer to carry the network at the market price. We hope DirecTV will make the right decision for their customers and put Versus back on the air."
According to SNL Kagan, Versus is getting about 18 cents per subscriber per month in monthly carriage fees from distributors in 2009.
DirecTV said it already pays Versus more than any other independent distributor and that the 20% hike it is seeking "for what is basically a paid programming and infomercial channel with occasional sporting events of interest is simply piggish."
Versus, formerly Outdoor Life Network, was rebranded in 2006 and is the exclusive national cable home of the National Hockey League, and the U.S. home of the Tour de France bicycle race. It also carries collegiate sports from the Pac-10, Big 12, Mountain West and Ivy League conferences; the Professional Bull Riders (PBR); World Extreme Cage fighting; and the Indy Racing League, among other properties.
In the weeks ahead, Versus will present some high-profile events, including college football matches pitting No. 2 Texas at Wyoming and No. 18 Florida State at No. 20 BYU on Sept. 12 and 19, respectively; Indy Car Series races on Sept. 18 and Oct. 10; the opening face-off of the National Hockey League season, with Washington visiting Boston on Oct. 1; and a live WEC fight on Oct. 10.
Versus enters the fall season with significant Nielsen momentum, coming off the most-watched NHL postseason on cable since 2002 and the highest-rated conference semifinal and conference final rounds on the medium in more than a decade, while the 2009 Tour de France was the most-watched in its history, as more than 46 million tuned its 14 hours of daily coverage of the cycling's top race.
The dispute also pertains to positioning as DirecTV has offered Versus on its Choice Xtra level of service and above.
DirecTV said that Comcast allows other distributors to carry Versus at much lower level of distribution, including Dish Network, which positions it on its AT250 package.
"Comcast has set a market with arms length negotiations with these other distributors and DirecTV expects equal treatment," the satellite provider said.
DirecTV, noting that it offered to continue Versus through the end of September while negotiations continued, said it has heard from a small number of subscribers who were unhappy about the network being pulled.
"But we want them to understand that we must hold the line on programming costs and protect them from unwarranted price increases, especially in this challenging economy," according to DirecTV.