DirecTV taking precautions, bullish on '09

Exec says economy hasn't yet had a material impact

NEW YORK -- DirecTV hasn't felt a hit from the economic downturn but is playing it safe nonetheless due to an uncertain outlook for economy and financial markets.

The satellite TV giant has instituted a hiring freeze and focused capital spending on critical projects amid the downturn, Jonathan Rubin, senior vp financial planning and investor relations, said here Tuesday.

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, he said "to date the economy has not had a material impact on our business."

He added that the company remains "bullish" on 2009 despite the weaker economy and "quite bullish" on its subscriber gross additions momentum in 2009.

Churn, or customer turnover, will go a touch higher for the current fourth quarter, but churn for all of 2008 will end below 2007 levels, he added.

Nonetheless, Rubin warned it would be "naive" to assume a sharp downturn couldn't affect business momentum down the line, which has led DirecTV to freeze its headcount and focus on the most important capital spending projects.

For example, the company will launch a new satellite, DirecTV 12, in 2009, bringing its national HD channel offering to 200, Rubin said. But another launch has been pushed back because of the uncertain economic outlook.