The No. 1 satellite company warns broadcasters that their rush to raise retransmission consent fees could backfire. DirecTV‘s outlays to broadcast stations are up 50% this year, and that’s “not sustainable,” CEO Mike White told analysts today after reporting third-quarter earnings. If prices “continue to explode, then customers are going to demand other alternatives.” And DirecTV has done some R&D work to see whether it could offer broadcast TV the way Aereo does — using antennas to tap free over-the-air transmissions, without paying stations. “We’ve had antennas before so we’re pretty experienced on the whole subject,” White says. He adds that “we continue to explore it” although Aereo’s technology is “unique” and he has nothing “immanent or specific” planned. White is one of pay TV’s most outspoken critics of rising programming prices. DirecTV says that its price hikes this year resulted in slightly higher voluntary churn in the U.S. in Q3 if you factor out the impact of a dispute last year that resulted in Viacom’s channels going dark on the service for 10 days. Still, he declined to make a big effort to snag Time Warner Cable subscribers this summer during its 32-day fight with CBS. “What goes around comes around in these programming disputes.” White also feels a surprising solidarity with cable companies including Charter that want to consolidate, which presumably would make them more formidable competitors to satellite services such as DirecTV. “Having stronger distributors that would negotiate tough on content fees would be a good thing,” White says. “We would welcome that.”
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