Programmers watch out. Comcast isn’t the only multichannel distributor throwing its weight around in negotiations. DirecTV is looking to get more aggressive. "We’re the 2nd biggest distributor and unlike cable, we’re growing a lot," DirecTV CEO Chase Carey jibed at Morgan Stanley’s conference. "For the size and scale we represent, programming costs have to be in line with our competitors. We haven’t been there." Carey indicated DirecTV was successful with recent deals, and expects to continue to reduce program expenses (its ESPN deal is set to expire this year). "We’re not looking to pick wars," he said. "We’re not looking to create headline-type fights, but we’re looking to achieve what’s fair." Carey waxed poetic about plans to offer 500 local HD channels next summer and another 1K in ’06 (Cfax, 9/9). "The cable industry has liked the spin that we don’t have the capability to compete, particularly on local HD," he said. "Do we have the capability today? No. Will we have a lot more [local HD] next year and a lot more a couple years after that? Yes." Hold it, Chase. Launching satellites doesn’t make HD a given. Case in point, look at the "sometimes arduous task" cable MSOs have faced negotiating HD retrans deals, Cox says in response to questions from us. "Second, customers may need new dishes to view the local HD channels; and most important, HD content and sets are here today … Cox delivers the product today, the very thing DirecTV is promising in ’05-’07 and beyond." UBS’ Aryeh Bourkoff said DirecTV’s plan "underscores cable’s need to more aggressively market their differentiated bundle," especially given the industry’s time-to-market advantage over satellite and the RBOCs. Speaking of the RBOCs, Chase characterized deals with BellSouth and Verizon as "very positive" and an area of "real promise." As for the Bells’ plans to offer fiber-to-the-home, "I think an awful lot is going to happen between here and there," he said. For now, "we have a very compatible set of objectives."

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