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Gridcast grapple

AT&T, cablers seek to snag DirecTV football

AT&T, the second-largest cable operator in the U.S., said it will spearhead a drive by cablers to buy exclusive rights to out-of-market National Football League games when the contract comes up for renewal in 2002.

Speaking at an informal news briefing during the Western Cable Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Dan Somers, president of AT&T broadband, alluded to the severe competitive disadvantage suffered by cable because of the exclusive arrangement the NFL has struck with DirecTV for the out-of-market games.

Satcaster strategy

DirecTV, the biggest satellite distributor of cable networks and pay-per-view movies and events, spends millions of dollars promoting the NFL exclusivity, inducing lots of sports fans to cancel their cable subscriptions and buy satellite dishes.

“We want to be players in both regional and national sports because sports drives lots of incremental revenue,” Somers said, pointing out that cable has already signed up for out-of-market games of the National Basketball Assn. and the National Hockey League and is in negotiations with Major League Baseball.

He touted the expanded channel capacity of Viewer’s Choice, which allows cable systems to accommodate as many as a dozen games at one time.

Advantage cable

And an unlimited number of pay-per-view movies are on the drawing board for rebuilt cable systems — what Somers calls “Blockbuster in the Sky.” In this area, cable will be able to lord it over DBS (direct broadcast satellite), he says, because, driven by fiber optics, a cable system will have the ability to offer subscribers upward of 600 channels through digital compression of its bandwidth.

DBS, by contrast, is limited to about 200 channels, according to Somers, with any new transponder space likely to be gobbled up by local TV station signals in markets throughout the country, which DirecTV and EchoStar can now offer to subscribers thanks to a law passed by Congress last month.

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