DirecTV, WWF spat nixes pay per view event

Wrestling fans who also own a DirecTV satellite receiver will have to scramble Sunday night to find the World Wrestling Federation’s “No Mercy” pay-per-view event.

“No Mercy” won’t be available on DirecTV because the satellite distributor and the WWF could not agree on a contract after sporadic negotiations that began 10 months ago when the previous deal expired.

Stu Snyder, president and chief operating officer of WWF Entertainment, said he’s encouraging DirecTV customers to re-evaluate their options if they want to see PPV wrestling, meaning they should cancel their DirecTV subscriptions and sign up with EchoStar’s Dish Network or switch to cable.

Breck Wheeler, media analyst for Legg Mason Wood Walker, said one reason DirecTV hasn’t worked out a WWF deal is the uncertainty over who its next owner will be.

News Corp. and EchoStar have submitted serious bids for DirecTV, possibly causing the company to hold off on doing high-visibility programming deals like one for WWF monthly PPV events.

Rev friction

The impasse between DirecTV and the WWF boils down to a conflict over revenue splitting. “We’ve offered the WWF more than any other pay-per-view platform,” including In Demand, EchoStar and TVN, DirecTV senior VP of program acquisitions Michael Thornton said.

Snyder said DirecTV has delivered an unacceptable offer that is lower than its previous contract with the WWF. He argues that the WWF deserves generous splits because over the last few years it has become the driver of pay-per-view events, responsible for 67.5% of total PPV revenue in 2000 and an additional 65% during the second quarter of 2001.

Making moves

Many cable operators plan to promote the absence of the Sunday “No Mercy” event on DirecTV by doing radio and newspaper ads with offers of free installation to people who become cable subscribers.

“This is a real opportunity for us,” said Jerry McKenna, head of programming for Cable One, a top 10 multisystem cable operator.

But McKenna said he’s also convinced that if DirecTV starts losing subscribers because it lacks WWF monthly events, it will quickly rush back to the bargaining table.

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