US Justice Dept sues AT&T's DirecTV for alleged collusion

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

TV service accused of illegally sharing information with rivals over LA baseball rights

The US Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against AT&T subsidiary DirecTV, accusing the TV arm of illegally sharing information with rival pay-TV operators.

The antitrust complaint accuses DirecTV of colluding with other TV companies to keep baseball team the LA Dodgers’ games off TV in the Los Angeles region.

It claims representatives for DirecTV met with Cox, Charter and AT&T, which bought the TV operator in 2015, to make a concerted effort to make a Dodgers launched TV channel, SportsNet LA, unavailable to customers. 

The Justice Department claims this was done in an attempt to boost negotiations with Time Warner Cable, later bought by Charter, who was looking to sell access to the exclusive rights to the channel which it owned.

In its filing, the department claims communications from DirecTV CEO Mike White to chief content officer Daniel York allegedly spoke of having “more leverage if we all stick together”.

The Justice Department accused DirecTV of being the “ringleader” in the alleged collusion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DirecTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to watch their hometown team,” said Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Sallet.

Though AT&T was a rival of DirecTV at the time, it has been named in the lawsuit due to its status as parent company of the TV provider. It comes just weeks after the telco announced an $85 billion bid to buy Time Warner.

Legal counsel for AT&T said: “We respect the DOJ’s important role in protecting consumers, but in this case, which occurred before AT&T’s acquisition of DIRECTV, we see the facts differently.  

“The reason why no other major TV provider chose to carry this content was that no one wanted to force all of their customers to pay the inflated prices that Time Warner Cable was demanding for a channel devoted solely to LA Dodgers baseball.  We make our carriage decisions independently, legally and only after thorough negotiations with the content owner. We look forward to presenting these facts in court.”