DirecTV, which Sanford Bernstein’s Craig Moffett calls payTV’s blue chip player, burned through 3Q as if the US economy is equally hot. It’s not, of course, yet the DBS op continues to add subs while purportedly taking share from every competitor. But while disregarding elevated SAC costs, an acceptable cost of business when luring higher-end and tech-crazy customers, DirecTV is being buffeted by winds on one front that may increase in velocity. Adoption of premium package NFL Sunday Ticket lagged in the Q, with pres/CEO Mike White ony calling the results "acceptable" while citing a "modest" decline in renewals. One-quarter of gross adds, or approx 285K, took the Ticket, and 350K subs used the package’s mobile option. Not bad, but the fee DirecTV must pay the league rises $200mln next season–part of an expected avg annual payout of $1bln from ’11-’14. The increase "will be a headwind," admitted White, who last month told CNBC it will be difficult to turn a profit on the package. And since DirecTV signed the deal, certain other ops have begun offering a similar and cheaper option in NFL RedZone, which many customers rave about. Moreover, if the NFL suffers a work stoppage next year, which many pundits believe could very well occur, DirecTV’s still on the hook for minimum Ticket payments. Even if its contract in that instance calls for the tacking of another year onto the original deal and a credit of some of the payment, DirecTV must be praying for a labor agreement. And a sharp uptick in Ticket buy rates.

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