LOS ANGELES, January 6, 2010 —
On Tuesday, January 5, Tennis Channel filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission demonstrating that Comcast Cable Communications is violating the FCC’s program carriage rules, which prohibit cable system operators from discriminating against unaffiliated cable programming services in favor of networks they own. According to the complaint, Comcast isolates Tennis Channel on a premium sports tier received by a small fraction of Comcast subscribers while it carries Comcast-owned networks that compete with Tennis Channel on basic tiers available to far more subscribers at no additional charge.
“We did not want to file this complaint, but Comcast has left us with no choice,” said Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO of Tennis Channel. “After steadily building the most comprehensive single-sport network in television over the past few years, in the first half of 2009 we had numerous discussions with Comcast. We made offers with added incentives for it to move us to a competitive, broadly penetrated service tier, as it has done recently with the MLB, NHL and NBA channels, in which it has financial interests. But Comcast declined to do so.”
According to evidence included in the complaint, Tennis Channel’s ratings performance is comparable in its service area to that of Comcast’s leading sports services, the Golf Channel and Versus; it offers coverage of all four of tennis’ Grand Slam events, while the Golf Channel and Versus offer little or no comparable coverage of the major events in the sports they cover; it charges a per-subscriber rate that is about half the rate charged by the Golf Channel and Versus, but broadcasts more than 2,700 hours per year of event coverage – compared to 2,400 hours on the Golf Channel and 1,350 hours on Versus; and it offers a full-time high-definition service.
Comcast’s Golf Channel and Versus are among the most broadly distributed channels on Comcast systems, reaching almost all of Comcast’s 23.8 million subscribers, according to the complaint, while Tennis Channel is limited to the added-cost premium sports tier that reaches only about 2.6 million homes. “This ten-to-one disparity in carriage seriously impedes our ability to grow and compete in the sports cable marketplace,” said Solomon. “It results solely from Comcast’s decision to protect the services it owns from legitimate competition.”
The complaint notes that Comcast executives have conceded that they give special carriage consideration to their owned services and that advertiser-supported services like Tennis Channel cannot succeed if they are carried on the Comcast sports tier. The complaint also establishes that only unaffiliated sports networks are carried on that tier and that all of the services in which Comcast has an interest enjoy considerably broader coverage.
“This case is truly the litmus test for unaffiliated programmers everywhere, and the future of the public’s interest in having a wide variety of voices and choice in the media marketplace,” said Solomon. “Ultimately, we simply want to be treated comparably to the way Comcast treats the sports program services it owns.”
Tennis Channel (www.tennischannel.com) is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle. A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community. It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP Masters Series, top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup. Tennis Channel is carried by nine of the top 10 MSOs, Verizon FiOS TV, and has a national footprint via DIRECTV and DISH Network.
The sport of tennis itself is currently enjoying major growth. Thirty million Americans played tennis last year, the most in two decades, according to study commissioned by the United States Tennis Association and Tennis Industry Association. A Sports Illustrated list of the top 10 athletes of the past decade included two tennis players and named a tennis player No. 1. Additionally, Tennis Channel’s ratings for top-level tennis events are competitive with those for programming on the highest-ranking cable networks.
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