With little fanfare, DirecTV has added a niche sports channel to its lineup this month -- Universal Sports -- while it continues its dispute with Versus, another sports channel.
Since the beginning of September, DirecTV has been carrying Universal Sports -- which has been running the Vuelta a Espana, one of the three grand tour pro road cycling races, which runs for three weeks. The other two grand tours are the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia.
Universal Sports -- a partnership of NBC Universal and InterMedia Partners with a focus on Olympic sports -- would seem like an interim substitute for Versus, which is owned by Comcast Corp., the biggest U.S. cable operator. Versus also airs many major cycling events, like the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of California.
"This is not a replacement for Versus," says a DirecTV spokesman. "We're always looking for marquee sports products, and there was a strong lineup of popular cycling events on Universal this month. We knew those passionate cycling fans out there would enjoy it."
A NBC Universal spokesman said: "We had offered them a free view of a number of events, and this was the first one they took us up on. We obviously would like to reach a long-term deal, but don't know when we might."
In regard to Versus, the DirecTV spokesman would only say the two parties were still negotiating.
DirecTV removed Versus over a dispute about higher subscriber fees the network was demanding. According to SNL Kagan, Versus is getting around 18 cents a subscriber per month. Executives say Versus wants a 20% increase, which DirecTV has said was "simply piggish."
For its own part, Versus said it gained about 10 million subs through exposure from free previews on Dish Network and some cable systems.
Versus has 75 million subscribers. DirecTV accounted for 19% of its distribution.
Universal Sports is in 56 million homes through a combination of traditional TV distribution platforms: multicasting local digital TV signals and cable systems agreements.