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DirecTV said money, not politics, guided decision over Newsmax

A DirecTV satellite installation van in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. (Photo by Dwight Burdette via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

Satellite broadcaster DirecTV said money, not politics or social ideology, was the element that provoked it to drop conservative commentary network Newsmax in January.

In a statement released over the weekend, a DirecTV spokesperson said the company was open to re-adding Newsmax to its line-up, so long as the channel’s executives moved away from a demand that the satellite company pay for carriage.

Those deals, known as retransmission consent agreements, are common in the pay television industry. Typically, a pay TV provider like DirecTV pays a network or channel owner like the Walt Disney Company, Comcast’s NBC Universal or Fox Corporation in exchange for the right to retransmit their channels.

Newsmax has been an outlier, in that the network allowed DirecTV to carry it for free while the channel built up enough of an audience to charge third parties for advertisements.

Last month, DirecTV dropped Newsmax after it requested carriage fees for the first time. DirecTV felt the fees weren’t justified, noting Newsmax’s relatively small audience compared to its next three peers — the Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC. DirecTV further said Newsmax was available across the Internet for free, making it difficult to justify the types of fees the channel was requesting.

The issue drew criticism from conservative lawmakers, who accused DirecTV of deplatforming right-wing commentary. Those critics noted DirecTV dropped a similar channel, One America News Network, last year, suggesting the satellite platform — which is majority owned by AT&T — was playing favorites to progressive voices.

On Sunday, DirecTV tried to put that perspective to rest.

“Our differences with Newsmax are economic, not political or ideological,” a DirecTV spokesperson said in a statement obtained by the industry website Next TV. “Newsmax made unreasonable demands that would force DirecTV customers to fund the network’s shift from a free nationwide streaming service to one that will require a pay TV subscription. Since we would not agree to Newsmax’s demand to pay them tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees, DirecTV was no longer permitted by Newsmax to air its content.”

The spokesperson went on to say that DirecTV was “disappointed by Newsmax’s position,” and affirmed that it would have preferred to keep the channel if Newsmax had not demanded those fees.

DirecTV ultimately struck a deal with The First, a similar conservative commentary channel that, like Newsmax, is available for free online. A spokesperson for Newsmax called the addition of The First “a pathetic attempt to deal with millions of angry viewers who still want Newsmax for our top-rated shows, personalities and in-depth coverage.”

“The facts remain, DirecTV dropped two of the most popular conservative channels in the past year, replaced them with a channel with no rating, and they still carry more than 20 liberal-leaning news channels,” the Newsmax spokesperson said.

Newsmax hasn’t offered specifics about the “liberal-leaning news channels” that DirecTV continues to carry, but it appears to group actual cable news outlets like CNN and MSNBC with general entertainment networks that offer somewhat-progressive programming — among them, Comedy Central, Vice TV, Bravo and local broadcast affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.

DirecTV argued that Newsmax was still available to access online for free, a point that Newsmax disputes by saying its free streaming channel will soon close and that cable and satellite will be the only way for viewers to access its programming in the future.

At least one DirecTV competitor is using the debacle over Newsmax to its advantage: Last week, satellite broadcaster Dish Network launched a campaign positing itself as the destination for cable news from a wide variety of perspectives. Among other channels, Dish Network says it has a long-term agreement in place to continue offering Newsmax alongside the major cable news outlets.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).