DirecTV close on SEC Network deal, working with NFL, miles apart on SportsNet LA

DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) chairman and CEO Mike White said the satellite company has agreed on rates with ESPN/Disney on the soon-to-launch SEC Network regional sports channel, and is "optimistic" about coming to terms with the National Football League by the end of the year for a crucial renewal of the "NFL Sunday Ticket" package.

However, he conceded that the El Segundo, Calif., satellite operator remains far apart in its talks with Time Warner Cable for a carriage agreement for new Dodgers channel, SportsNet LA.

White addressed a number of topics while peaking with investors Thursday, July 31 on a conference call to discuss DirecTV's second-quarter earnings, during which it exceeded Wall Street expectations with 5 percent revenue growth to $8.1 billion.

Topics also included the potential launch of a stripped-down SVOD service, as well as pending 4K/Ultra-HD offerings. But most of the questions stemmed around DirecTV's ongoing sports-programming dealings.

White said DirecTV has agreed on rates with the SEC Network, and is  "hopeful and optimistic" a deal will be in place when the RSN launches Aug. 14. Earlier on Thursday, Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) announced that it is also close to announcing a deal for the RSN, which already has agreements with the rest of the major pay-TV carriers.

And with DirecTV still in an exclusive negotiating period to renew NFL Sunday Ticket, White said the operator and the pro football league are discussing various multiscreen rights issues, but he's also confident a deal will get made before the exclusivity window closes.

"We're sorting through the digital rights and how those might evolve," White said.

White described DirecTV and the NFL as being in a bit of a fact-finding phase, referencing DirecTV's June announcement, in which the company said it would make the $199 Sunday Ticket package available for a la carte streaming at 10 college campuses, as well as select markets in New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco that can't receive DirecTV's satellite signal.

"We're going to take some of the learnings we get from this over the next few months and assess them," White added.

Meanwhile, the chief executive also addressed the white-hot issue of SportsNet LA. The Federal Communications Commission stepped in earlier in the week and demanded that TWC do something to overcome the months-long negotiating impasse, which has seen DirecTV, the No. 2 operator in the Los Angeles market, unwilling to sign on to a licensing fee of more than $4 per subscriber. About 70 percent fo the L.A. market can't watch Dodgers games, and six Southern California legislators petitioned FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last weekend to do something about that. 

White said DirecTV would be "willing to consider some sort of mediation," but stopped short of agreeing to the binding arbitration TWC has already committed to.

White noted that the Dodgers, which are being paid $8.35 billion over 25 years by TWC to make their local broadcast rights exclusive to SportsNet LA, only averaged 128,000 viewers last season out of an overall L.A.-area pay-TV viewer market of 4.4 million. He also said DirecTV has managed to grow subscribers in the Southern California region, despute not carrying the Dodgers channel.

"We like the Dodgers as a team, and we'd love to have them on DirecTV, but right now, we are where we are," White added. 

For more:
- read this Multichannel News story

Related links:
DirecTV Q2: Latin American sub growth triples thanks to World Cup
Update: DirecTV not interested in arbitration with TWC over Dodgers channel
Sizing up pay TV earnings for the  second quarter of 2014

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