DirecTV Wants DOJ Antitrust Case Blacked Out

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By Liz Crampton

The Justice Department can’t prove that information-sharing between DirecTV Group Holdings LLC and three other content distributors violated federal antitrust law, the company said in a court filing ( United States v. DirecTV Group Holdings LLC , C.D. Cal., No. 16-08150, motion filed 1/10/17 ).

Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald should dismiss the government’s lawsuit because it doesn’t “allege any traditional theory of antitrust liability, DirecTV said in a motion Jan. 10. Instead, it’s based on “narrow and generalized allegations of ‘information sharing.’ ”

The government sued DirecTV and AT&T Inc. in November for talking with competitors about getting the exclusive rights to broadcast Dodgers games in Los Angeles. DirecTV, AT&T, Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. allegedly exchanged non-public information about their ongoing negotiations to show the Dodgers Channel offered by Time Warner Cable Inc. in order to gain bargaining leverage, the Justice Department said.

The case covers conduct that took place before mergers among four of the companies involved. Time Warner Cable was bought by Charter Communications Inc. last year. DirecTV was bought by AT&T in 2015. Neither Cox nor Charter was named in the suit.

No content provider in Los Angeles currently offers the Dodgers channel.

Antitrust challenges based on alleged information agreements are “extremely rare, and for good reason,’” the motion said. “Never before has a court found an antitrust violation for the mere sharing of non-price information of the type alleged here, especially when based on such threadbare allegations of an agreement.”

The government’s complaint relies on “only a handful of episodic, separate contacts” between DirecTV and other distributors, few of which have any direct connection to the Dodgers, the motion said. None of the conversations involve exchanging competitive price information, a requirement for bringing a lawsuit under the Sherman Act, it said.

“Such statements amount to nothing more than industry chatter about high-visibility topics, and cannot be sufficient to plausibly allege an ongoing reciprocal agreement to share competitively sensitive information,” the filing said.

Further, DirecTV said the lawsuit fails to show how the alleged conduct resulted in anticompetive effects. The government made no attempt to prove that any distributor would be carrying the Dodger channel absent the alleged communications, the company said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Liz Crampton in Washington at lcrampton@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tiffany Friesen Milone at tmilone@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the motion is at http://src.bna.com/lkH

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