Q. I read that AT&T said DIRECTV will keep the NFL Sunday Ticket as an exclusive. That’s great news. What do you think the prices will be? The same? More? — Roger, Cleveland.
Roger, I have to inform you that AT&T actually didn’t say that. Let me explain.
In a conference call last week with financial analysts, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was asked about the opt-out clause in DIRECTV’s Sunday Ticket contract that would enable the National Football League to sell the rights to another provider after the 2019 season.
Under that clause, the league could offer the rights to a streaming service such as Amazon or Apple while continuing to allow DIRECTV to sell the Ticket to its satellite customers. Or, the NFL could decide to sell the rights exclusively to a streamer, DIRECTV, or a pay TV operator such as Comcast.
The prospect that DIRECTV could lose its exclusive hold on the Ticket — something it’s had since the Ticket launched in 1994 — worries both AT&T executives as well as sports fans who subscribe to DIRECTV. So Stephenson last week tried to assure all that he’s confident that the Ticket will continue to be an exclusive on DIRECTV.
“We’re not allowed to discuss much, but the exclusivity should remain as we go forward on DIRECTV,” he said.
But before you take that to the bank, Stephenson had to say that, regardless of how negotiations are proceeding. Let me explain.
Let’s say AT&T is close to an agreement with the league to retain the exclusivity. Of course, he would say he’s confident it will happen because he is.
But let’s say negotiations are still uncertain and DIRECTV could, or could not, keep the exclusive rights. Under that scenario, he would still say he’s confident because he wants to keep current DIRECTV subscribers from defecting. If he refused comment, or expressed anything less than total confidence, current customers might think DIRECTV will lose the Ticket, and drop their subscriptions now.
It wouldn’t be a lie for Stephenson to express confidence at this point, even if the ultimate decision could go in a different direction. So long as DIRECTV has a decent chance, it’s just good business to be confident about its prospects.
The TV Answer Man will continue to monitor this development until a decision is made.
Until then, Roger. Happy viewing!
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— Phillip Swann
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