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DirecTV To Drop Trio from Lineup by Year-End

Nov 24, 2004  •  Post A Comment

DirecTV Group will drop the Trio channel from its lineup at the end of the year, once again raising questions about the future of the struggling cable network owned by NBC Universal.

The loss of DirecTV as a distributor is a serious blow to the channel, as the satellite operator accounts for 60 percent of the channel’s distribution. Losing DirecTV’s 12 million subscribers will leave Trio with just 8 million subs.

NBC Universal and DirecTV in July inked a new carriage agreement that covered all of the former Vivendi Universal Entertainment channels except Trio, adding to speculation that the channel’s future was in jeopardy. People familiar with the situation said that although Trio wasn’t included in the July carriage agreement, both sides continued to discuss the possibility of carrying it.

However, DirecTV informed Trio on Wednesday that starting on Dec. 1 it would be running a crawl on the Trio channel informing consumers that DirecTV will stop carrying the channel by Dec. 31.

A DirecTV spokesman said that the satellite carrier “exercised an option not to carry the channel” and was “exploring options to fill the channel.”

In a statement, a Trio spokeswoman said: “As of Dec. 31, DirecTV will no longer carry Trio. We are committed to programming the network and the Web site for our loyal viewers and cable distribution partners. NBC Universal continues to evaluate the future of the network in relation to its overall digital strategy.”

Ever since NBC closed its deal to purchase Vivendi Universal Entertainment in May, Trio’s future has been uncertain, with executives at the newly created NBC Universal saying that they were reviewing various options available to them. Though NBCU executives seem to agree that Trio is a valuable brand, its inability to secure distribution has left the network vulnerable.

That analysis was initially going to result in a decision being made by the end of summer, but NBCU Chairman Bob Wright said earlier this month that the company was a couple of months away from making a decision (TelevisionWeek, Nov. 8).

“Trio is just a difficult proposition because it has very modest carriage, and this is a tough time period to add carriage,” Mr. Wright told TelevisionWeek.

What NBCU will do with Trio remains an open question. Though the channel has little distribution, it does have a library of television series and movies that could be leveraged, particularly as NBCU Cable explores video-on-demand-based businesses.

However, changing the format of the channel is risky as well, as it could spur other carriage partners, including Time Warner Cable, to drop the network as well.