DirecTV Said Near Renewal of Deal for NFL Sunday Ticket

Rumors of NFL Talks With Google Never Led to Much

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DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite TV service, is near an agreement to renew its exclusive deal with the National Football League for NFL Sunday Ticket, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The multiyear contract would let DirecTV keep carrying the out-of-market Sunday-afternoon games it's had for almost 20 years, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. While the new pact isn't final, the outlines are set and it could be announced this month, one person said. A deal would extend the four-year, $4 billion contract that expires at the end of 2014.

With Sunday Ticket, DirecTV would retain key sports programming it can use to fend off competitors and web-based entrants looking for exclusive content. While the company has offered the package since 1994 and is one of the few pay-TV players with national reach, the NFL has said it talked with a wide range of suitors.

Google CEO Larry Page reportedly met this summer with an NFL delegation led by commissioner Roger Goodell on subjects including taking over Sunday Ticket, setting off a wave of speculation in the press.

The people familiar with DirecTV's recent talks didn't provide the dollar value for the new contract or say how long it would run. Darris Gringeri, a spokesman for DirecTV, declined to comment. No agreement is done, said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the National Football League in New York.

DirecTV CEO Michael White said yesterday at an investor conference that he's confident the company will continue to exclusively carry the NFL package of games.

"We've had very, very constructive conversations with the NFL, but it's complex," White said. "I'm very optimistic we will get an exclusive deal done on NFL Sunday Ticket."

Reuters reported yesterday that the sides agreed on the framework for an agreement.

Last year, about 2 million DirecTV customers paid for Sunday Ticket out of its 20 million U.S. subscribers.

The company uses the package to attract and keep customers. The price starts at $49.99 a month, andDirecTV offers an upper tier for streaming, allowing users to watch games on tablets and phones for $59.99. New DirecTV customers who sign two-year contracts get a year of Sunday Ticket for free.

Google, Sony and Intel are among tech companies working to deliver TV over the internet, threatening the conventional pay-TV monthly subscription that involves a set-top box, offered by DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. At the same time, networks are demanding higher fees for programming and looking for new ways to sell digital rights.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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