The NHL recently published an Open Letter to DirecTV Subscribers encouraging us to contact DirecTV directly to let them know we want Versus back. The language is interesting, because if you read between the lines the NHL is subtly picking sides in this argument, even though it has vested interests with both sides in the dispute. Versus is their national broadcast partner, but DirecTV also carries the NHL Network and dedicates quite a bit of channel resources to the Center Ice package.
So what is this dispute all about?
If this transaction would have gone through the way DirecTV wanted it, Versus would be in the $13/mo Sports Pack. Granted, you would still have access to the channel, but only if you parted with $13/mo to get it.
The reason behind this is DirecTV is having trouble restructuring its debt with Liberty Media. That's why there are all these rumors recently about possible acquisitions by companies like Verizon.They wanted to use the Versus renewal as an opportunity to try to boost short term profits by getting people who wanted Versus to sign up for the $13 sports pack to get access to the channel. It would reduce their base costs for the Choice Xtra package and bump their financial situation because the profit margin is huge on the Sports Pack.
DirecTV has been engaging in other customer-unfriendly tactics lately, like if you have to RMA a defective receiver they lock you into a new 2 year contract when you activate the replacement. (only they don't tell you this) They are engaging in this tactic so they can boost the number of subscribers under contract they report when negotiating their debt to show where future income is coming in. This practice has been discussed in numerous message boards and blogs, including in an article helpfully titled What the hell is wrong with DirecTV in a major satellite TV industry blog.
I don't mean to imply that Comcast is an angelic company by any means. I think it's borderline theft that they only supply a single HD channel with their Center Ice package, and it is reprehensible that they hide behind the terrestrial broadcast loopholes to keep CSN Philly to Comcast subscribers only.
In this case, DirecTV just happens to be the bigger weasel. They talk about this being over subscription fees and how they're trying to control your rates. The average price TV providers are paying for Versus is about $0.30/mo per subscriber. DirecTV says Comcast is asking for a 20% increase -- even if that's true (I have my doubts) we're talking about 6 cents! DirecTV raised every programming package 3 dollars back in March across the board -- and Versus is only in their Choice Xtra package so not all of their customers get it! I'm tempted to mail them a "leave a penny, take a penny" dish with a note attached saying "Let's call it even."
That the NHL is willing to stand out and say to contact DirecTV even though it will put strain on that partnership should speak volumes here.
The marketing machine of DirecTV is awesome. They're trying to screw over any of their subscribers who want to get Versus by making the channel significantly more expensive to get, and yet they've convinced people that Comcast is the only bad guy in all of this.