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Scott D. Pierce: No end in sight to Pac-12-DirecTV standoff

Published March 4, 2014 10:01 am

Television • There's no reason to think satellite provider is going to back down. Ever.
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The Pac-12 men's basketball tournament gets under way next week, and for the second year in a row, fans who subscribe to DirecTV will have to find a friend with Comcast or Dish or head to a sports bar to see the Utes play.

Nineteen months after the Pac-12 Network launched, it still doesn't have a deal with the satellite TV giant. Which is a big deal because DirecTV has approximately 20 million subscribers.

And there's no sign of progress. Both sides are entrenched in their positions — DirecTV won't pay what the Pac-12 Network is asking; the Pac-12 Network won't cut its price for DirecTV.

For a long time, I believed this was temporary. That the two sides would come to some sort of agreement sooner rather than later.

Clearly, that was a massive misreading of the situation. The same mistake that the Powers That Be at the Pac-12 Network have made when it comes to DirecTV.

These are very tough people they're dealing with. And you need look no further than The Weather Channel to see just how tough DirecTV is.

Back in January, DirecTV dropped TWC. And the folks at The Weather Channel promptly lost their minds.

They insisted that being n DirecTV is "imperative for public safety and, therefore, an issue meriting Congressional attention."

That's right. TWC called their dispute with DirecTV a matter of life and death and called on Congress to step in.

DirecTV did not flinch. And, in fact, it offered TWC less than it had been paying under the expired contract.

Far from backing down, DirecTV chairman, president and CEO Michael White stepped up, releasing a strongly-worded statement that was far from the usual conciliatory, we're-trying-to-work-it-out pablum.

"TV networks feel it's their absolute birthright to be paid more and more each year for the same content they offer, regardless of how many customers actually watch their channels," White wrote.

If this was the 18th century, he'd have to fight a duel with someone from TWC.

No, this is not exactly the same situation as the DirecTV-P12N battle. DirecTV has added WeatherNation; there is no alternative to P12N.

But TWC has more leverage than P12N. The Weather Channel is co-owned and managed by NBC, which owns more than two dozen channels included in DirecTV's programming — NBC, Telemundo and cable channels like USA, CNBC, MSNBC, NBCSN, Syfy, Oxygen and E!

P12N is on its own. It doesn't have a huge media conglomerate behind it.

And having a huge media conglomerate hasn't helped when it comes to fighting with DirecTV. It dropped Comcast/NBC's G4 in November 2010, and it has never been restored.

Those folks at DirecTV are tough. If you're going toe to toe with them and you're waiting for the satellite guys to blink, you're going to be waiting a long time.

I'm not telling Pac-12 Network executives they should blink. Clearly, they've decided getting on DirecTV is not a priority.

I'm not telling DirecTV subscribers to switch providers. Especially if you're a big NFL fan and Sunday Ticket is a priority for you.

But if P12N wants to get on DirecTV, it will have to back down. And if watching the Utes on P12N is your priority, you're going to have to switch.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.




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