New local direction

Satcaster quills deals with Peacock, ABC

WASHINGTON — DirecTV announced Monday it has closed deals to carry the signals of ABC and NBC owned-and-operated stations, thus giving the satcasters signed retransmission agreements with three of the Big Four broadcast networks.

DirecTV is also in negotiations with CBS, the only major network with which it has not yet inked a deal. Pacts come in the wake of a satellite reform law signed by President Clinton last week that allows satcasters to offer local TV channels for the first time.

Although the companies would not reveal details of the agreement, DirecTV’s deal to carry ABC is linked to carriage of the Alphabet web’s new SoapNet channel. With 7.8 million subscribers, DirecTV is one of the largest television distribs in the U.S. behind Time Warner and AT&T.

ABC’s SoapNet will offer same-day programming for ABC’s popular shows including “All My Children,” “General Hospital” and “One Life to Live.” It will also carry vintage primetime soaps such as “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest.”

Local to local online

DirecTV is now offering local TV channels in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Denver and San Francisco.

The announcement gives DirecTV an early lead in the race with rival satcaster EchoStar to wrap up deals with television stations. EchoStar has a deal with Fox only, which it secured through an unrelated legal settlement.

The satellite reform legislation allows EchoStar and DirecTV six months to uplink local TV signals without permission. After the six months are up, the satcasters must turn off the local feeds if they fail to close deals — or face steep fines.

EchoStar’s challenge

EchoStar may face a tougher time closing deals with broadcasters as relations between the satcaster and the networks have been rancorous. In two separate court cases, EchoStar was found guilty of selling network feeds to subscribers who were not eligible to receive them.

Although DirecTV did not announce a plan to offer local channels until last May, it seems to have the jump on EchoStar when it comes to closing the deal by the congressionally mandated deadline.

Referring to the agreement with ABC, DirecTV prexy Eddy Harteinstein said, “Customers have been waiting for some time to receive the major broadcast networks via satellite. With this agreement and the recent passage of enabling legislation, they will soon have that opportunity.”

If satcasters do offer a real threat to cablers, as Congress hopes, deals with DirecTV and EchoStar could provide leverage that the broadcasters have lacked in similar negotiations with cable.

“This is a real breakthrough moment in our business,” said ABC chairman and Walt Disney Intl. prexy Robert Iger.

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