Malone: DirecTV flying high

Tells shareholder meeting that 'business has never been stronger'

DirecTV and Liberty Media chairman John Malone, DirecTV CEO Chase Carey, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei and Haim Saban all in one room — this was the industry mogul power that packed a conference room at the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan Tuesday for DirecTV's annual shareholder meeting .

They were joined by about 20 shareholders who showed up for what was a happy and bullish get-together.

Opening his first annual meeting as chairman of the satellite TV firm, Malone expressed his "great appreciation for the wonderful operating job" that the management team led by Carey provided last year.

Carey told shareholders that "our business has never been stronger" and that DirecTV is "positioned for years of profitable growth" despite competition among cable, satellite and telecom firms having reached new heights.

Customer satisfaction will be a key focus for 2008, even though DirecTV earned the highest score of big video providers in a recent survey, he said, noting he wants customer service to be "nothing less than stellar."

Carey was greeted by a wave of shareholder applause when he finished by saying, "The best and most exciting years are (still) ahead of us."

Maffei and Saban were at the meeting in their roles as DirecTV board members but didn't give speeches.

But asked on the sidelines about how his firm's investment in Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications is working out, Saban told The Reporter, "It's an incredible investment, and we're thrilled to be in it."

Asked about an analyst's suggestion recently that Liberty could swap its stake in Time Warner to win control of the dial-up business of TW's AOL unit, Maffei wouldn't completely rule out this scenario but said AOL doesn't seem like a business that would naturally enhance Liberty's operations.

During a Q&A session, one shareholder earned smiles and some chuckles from board members when he repeatedly lauded Malone for always creating value for shareholders. (partialdiff)