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News Corp. Optimistic on DirecTV Deal

October 13, 2003|From Reuters

News Corp., the media group led by Rupert Murdoch, brushed off a delay in the regulatory review of its $6.6-billion deal to buy control of El Segundo-based satellite company DirecTV, saying it still hoped to close the transaction by the end of the year.

News Corp. President Peter Chernin said in an interview that he wanted to work in partnership with cable companies to bring down the cost of sports programming, sounding a conciliatory tone in a dispute that has escalated in recent weeks.

Chernin, widely regarded as Murdoch's right-hand man, has been working to keep the DirecTV deal on track in Washington and remained confident it would not falter at the regulatory gate as did EchoStar Communication Corp.'s attempt to buy the satellite company.

However, the Federal Communications Commission said Friday that it needed more time and information to review the deal and was stopping its 180-day clock on considering the proposal.

"We are still optimistic that the deal will close by the end of the year," Chernin told Reuters. "Asking for more information is a regular part of the process."

News Corp., which owns the Fox TV network and 20th Century Fox Film Corp., is eager not to draw the wrath of regulators and has kept a relatively low profile on the issue of sports programming costs, analysts say.

U.S. cable operators complain that powerful companies such as News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. are raising rates for sports programming by unacceptable amounts.

Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts said Friday that cable operators needed to craft new partnerships with programmers.

Chernin said he was confident he could find a long-term solution with the cable companies based ultimately on containing fees paid to teams and top athletes.

"We would like to get to that point in some kind of partnership with cable companies," he said. "These are contentious negotiations, but our goal is to see them solved in a productive way."

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