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OK on News Corp./DirecTV Imminent

Washington—FCC approval of News Corp.'s $6.6 billion bid to control DirecTV could come this week. The Republican majority is said to be ready to OK the deal on condition that an outside arbitrator would settle disputes with cable operators negotiating to carry the company's programming.

The commissioners are concerned that combining News Corp.'s extensive cable and broadcast programming with a nationwide multichannel distributor like DirecTV would give the company leverage to charge other carriers above-market prices for programming.

The Justice Department is also expected to OK the deal.

Comcast Buys Tribune's Golf Stake

New York—Tribune Broadcasting Co. is selling its 8.9% stake in Golf Channel to Comcast for $100 million, giving the MSO 99%. Tribune President Patrick Mullen revealed the deal at media investment conferences last week. The deal came together as Tribune, which owns the Chicago Cubs, and the cable company negotiated for sports rights for Comcast's new Chicago regional sports net. Mullen also said Tribune's WGN Superstation is picking up 7 million subscribers on cable and satellite, some believed to be on Comcast systems.

Charter Looks To Cut Program Costs

New York—Charter Communications President/CEO Carl Vogel said last week that 60%-65% of his MSO's programming deals expire by the end of next year, including deals with Fox Sports and ESPN. Speaking at last week's UBS Warburg media conference, he said Charter needs to bring down programming costs, which can be done two ways: "Negotiate better rates or migrate some services to digital to give customers choice." He wouldn't say by how much he's looking to cut costs.

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