Versus president Jamie Davis said the network's distribution fallout with DirecTV is about positioning, not price.
Davis said network talks with the nation's No. 1 DBS operator broke down over DirecTV wanting to remove it from some 6 million subscribers. Before the plug was pulled on Sept. 1, Versus, which had resided on the Total Choice Xtra package, counted 14 million DirecTV subs among its 75.5 million base.
"DirecTV wanted to take Versus away from 6 million subscribers who were receiving it for no additional cost," said Davis in a Sept. 2 interview. "That was simply not acceptable for us. We hope to resolve things amicably, but that's a non-starter."
DirecTV, in an email response later that day, wrote "we've asked for packaging rights similar to other distributors like Dish," which it says carries Versus on its AT250 tier and has about a 35% penetration rate. "Our contention is, if it's good for Dish, why isn't it good for us? At this [point], the deal is terminated and we are treating this as a new network, from scratch. So we're attempting to gauge the market and Dish seems like a good barometer."
Davis, noting that the network wasn't called by the DBS operator late Monday that it was about to be "turned off," said there haven't been any discussions since the service was disconnected Tuesday morning.
Earlier, DirecTV said the parties had disagreed about price, claiming the Comcast-owned Versus was seeking a 20% hike in license fees.
"Those increases aren't true," said Davis. "We're simply asking them to pay what the other providers are paying."
Versus' monthly license fee is in the 27 cents to 29 cents per subscriber range.
DirecTV countered Wednesday by saying that it offered to keep the channel up for a month at the current rate, which it says is "way above market." The DBS operator said Versus refused, "forcing us to take it down."
Davis also took umbrage to previous DirecTV pejoratives about Versus programming.
"If the quote-unquote 'leader in sports' considers the Stanley Cup playoffs and Lance Armstrong's comeback as paid programming and infomercials, then I think the average fan knows they're not the real 'leader in sports.' That's an insult to all the fans of those sports."
In addition to the NHL, which is coming off its most-watched postseason on cable since 2002 and the highest-rated conference semifinal and conference final rounds on the medium in more than a decade, and the Tour de France, the 2009 iteration of which 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, Versus presents college football, Indy Racing League, World Extreme Cage fighting and the Professional Bull Riders, among other properties.
In the weeks ahead, Versus, which said it is the fastest-growing sports network among viewers both in primetime and total day, 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.
Davis said that since the network went dark on DirecTV, there has been a massive outcry from fans of the network and outreach from other distributors. "We've received tens of thousands of calls and emails. Subscribers asking us where they can get Versus," he said, while also pointing to Dish Network offering a three-month free trial to the service. "Nine million more people now have more access to Versus on Dish."
In concluding the interview, Davis reiterated Versus' wont for an amicable resolution, but reaffirmed that DirecTV's push for the network to be distributed before fewer subscribers is "a non-starter for us."