Cable Operators

Comcast to FCC: Fault! Others Dropped Tennis, Too

9/12/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Comcast has modified its evidence in the
Tennis Channel complaint to refl ect that Verizon Communications’
FiOS TV and Cablevision Systems are no longer
carrying the channel.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission
last Friday (Sept. 9), the nation’s top cable operator said new
information, combined with reports that a number of other
MVPDs had decided to drop the channel rather than move it
off a separate sports tier, as Tennis Channel was requesting,
undercut Tennis’ discrimination claim.

On Sept. 4, the network’s nine-year agreement with the National
Cable Television Cooperative for sports tier positioning
expired in favor of a new agreement that calls for broader carriage
via digital basic.

At that juncture, a number of NCTC members, including
Cablevision and Verizon, elected not to opt into the new coop
master agreement. Th e drops came in the midst of Tennis’
second year of coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships
from Flushing Meadows,
Queens, where the network presented
300 hours, including 75
showcasing live matches.

Tennis and Verizon, which
had been offering the channel on
its Ultimate package, said on Friday
afternoon that negotiations
toward a new deal for broader
distribution had occurred
throughout last week. They had
not reached a new contract as of press time on Sept. 9

NCTC, which negotiates programming deals and buys
hardware for its membership, would not specify individual
distributors’ decisions, while noting that the renewal agreement
provides an efficient means for some to continue Tennis
carriage. Overall, the co-op said, a significant number of
members have dropped Tennis following its additional carriage
requirements.

“While more member companies renewed than dropped
the network, those that elected to drop
represented a majority of the subscribers
in the NCTC agreement,” the organization
said.

Mediacom confirmed that it was no longer
carrying Tennis. Some of the other distributors
that have dropped Tennis include
Suddenlink and GCI, as well as overbuilders
WOW! and Knology.

Tennis’ complaint stems from Comcast’s
decision to keep the independent
programmer on a premium sports tier
rather than a more broadly distributed level
of service. Tennis argues that Comcast
is favoring its own similarly situated networks
Versus (to be renamed NBC Sports
Network in January) and Golf Channel by
placing them on more widely viewed tiers.
Comcast says those “independent carriage decisions” by
other MVPDs “strongly refute Tennis Channel’s discrimination
claim against Comcast.”

An FCC administrative law judge has heard the case but
has not set a deadline for deciding it — the complaint predates
the FCC’s new timetable for resolving program carriage
complaints.

A Tennis spokesman had no comment at press time on
Comcast’s submission.

September