Q. I just read that DIRECTV will carry the new Scientology channel when it starts tonight. Why on earth would DIRECTV carry that thing instead of Epix and SportsNet LA? — Roger, Manhattan Beach, California.
Roger, you are right that DIRECTV will carry Scientology TV, the new channel from the controversial religious group. The channel debuts tonight at 8 p.m. ET, although the organization has not revealed what will be in its lineup.
However, one thing that has been disclosed is a bit unexpected: DIRECTV’s online programming guide says the channel will air in High-Definition.
Now to your question, which is an interesting one, and one that I’m sure is on the minds of many observers of the satellite TV business.
AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, has made it abundantly clear that it’s not interested in adding new channels unless it makes financial sense to do so. Consequently, DIRECTV is still missing SportsNet LA, Epix and the Pac 12 Network, all channels that would be greatly welcomed by the satcaster’s audience, but are charging more than AT&T wants to pay.
So why would DIRECTV add Scientology TV which will likely upset many of its customers who have read reports the church has allegedly afflicted numerous physical, financial and psychological abuses on its members?
AT&T and DIRECTV will not comment on the terms of carriage negotiations, but the satcaster has a dirty little secret: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to carry the channel. Instead, the channel pays it.
For example, Newsmax, the conservative news channel, has openly admitted that it pays DIRECTV for its channel slot. The network is happy to pay to be in DIRECTV’s 21 million homes, an audience it otherwise would never be able to reach.
Newsmax isn’t the only pay-to-play channel in DIRECTV’s lineup. While it hasn’t been publicly confirmed, Russia Today is another one. How else would the network that’s considered an arm of the Russian government find a spot in the lineup of America’s largest satellite TV service?
Neither Scientology or AT&T have commented on the DIRECTV launch (other than to confirm it will happen), but the odds are overwhelming that the well-heeled religious group is paying a pretty penny to be in the satcaster’s lineup.
So, Roger, AT&T executives may or may not like Scientology’s philosophy, but I’m fairly confident that they like their money.
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