August 20, 2009
While the rest of the hockey world was debating the merits of the Versus 2009-10 NHL broadcast schedule, Bruce Ciskie of FanHouse noted that DirecTV was communicating with its subscribers that its contract with Versus was up on Aug. 31 and if no new deal was in place "Versus may be removed from DIRECTV."
Gasp and swoon. Millions could be relegated to making their own "Sports Soup" with a can of Campbell's Chunky and an old catcher's mitt.
DirecTV's playing hardball on its Web site with a self-administered Q&A, claiming its being treated unfairly:
What's keeping you from reaching an agreement?
Versus is asking for terms which do not reflect the market and which they are not asking of all other distributors. DIRECTV wants to keep your monthly fees low, so it's doing everything it can to avoid paying exorbitant programming fees.
FanHouse, meanwhile, received a statement from Versus on the matter, saying that although they've added "many marquee properties" and has "tremendous momentum," they're offering DirecTV "the ability to carry VERSUS the same way it does today at the market price."
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.
They also point out that this isn't just about hockey.
Texas and Wyoming are schedule to play a little NCAA football on Sept. 12, exclusively on the network -- one of those previously mentioned "many marquee properties."
So it's a very public, very hardball negotiation between two media conglomerates. Puck The Media smells trouble; we don't. There's too much as stake for both sides for there not be some sort of deal in the next two weeks. These tactics have a "darkest before the dawn" vibe to them.
For hockey fans, at least there's still NHL Center Ice on the satellite network. And as we pointed out yesterday, if you're a fan of the Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators or Vancouver Canucks, you could care less about Versus this season - unless you make the playoffs, that is.
Three more notes from a not-all-that-busy-day in hockey world: The sad news we reported earlier in the Puck Headlines about Jose Theodore's child is unfortunately accurate. Patrick Kane pleads not guilty in a Buffalo courtroom, and won't have to appear there next week for the next scheduled session.
Oh, and please do check out the NHL's new NHL Fans site, full of blogs and tweets and all sorts of other words that didn't exist when "Cheers" was on NBC. (Are we the only ones who measure time this way?)