Malone: DirecTV Flying High

NEW YORK DirecTV and Liberty Media chairman John Malone, DirecTV CEO Chase Carey, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei and media mogul Haim Saban weighed in on the company’s prospects yesterday at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan during DirecTV’s annual shareholders meeting.

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, Carey said, explaining 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 attended 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 is working out, Saban said: “It’s an incredible investment, and we’re thrilled to be in it.”

Asked about an analyst’s recent suggestion 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.

Carey once again said that the weak U.S. economy has only had a “minimal” negative effect on DirecTV. “Our competitors have certainly attributed more” of recent quarters of weak subscriber momentum to the economy, especially Dish Networks he said. “We have not seen those sorts of issues.”