Comcast returns serve in battle with Tennis Channel
Cable giant Comcast Corp. has fired one back over the net at the Tennis Channel.
Not wasting any words, Comcast told the Federal Communications Commission that a recent complaint about the cable company filed by the Tennis Channel is "without merit," "beyond the statute of limitations" and needs to be "denied and dismissed."
Comcast's filing was in response to a filing by the Tennis Channel last month that alleged the cable behemoth was favoring its own channels over those from outside suppliers. Those types of complaints tend to get a lot of attention in Washington because of one of the fears about media concentration is that smaller programmers will have a hard time getting their services on large distributors that own similar channels.
Tennis Channel charged last month that by putting its channel on a tier of sports channels while putting its own sports networks such as Golf and Versus on more widely distributed services, Comcast was discriminating against it.
"The limited carriage Comcast provides to the Tennis Channel causes specific and concrete harm to its ability to compete for viewers, advertisers and the rights to cablecast tennis events," the complaint said. Tennis Channel also claimed that because Comcast is a market leader, its decisions influence other distributors.
Comcast says Tennis Channel is merely trying to renegotiate an existing agreement and added that the network has similar agreements to be carried on "specialty tiers" with other distributors. As for Versus and Golf, Comcast notes those channels were in existence long before Tennis Channel and secured distribution at a time when such space was more readily available than it is today for channels.
Comcast implies that Tennis Channel is trying to cut a new deal because it thinks Comcast might be more vulnerable to renegotiate since it faces a long process to get its proposed merger with NBC Universal through Capitol Hill.
“After breaking off discussions with Comcast in June 2009, Tennis Channel was silent for six months. Then, on Dec. 10, just one week after Comcast announced its proposed joint venture with NBC Universal, Tennis Channel sent a letter to Comcast threatening litigation unless Comcast agreed to reposition the network on a more widely penetrated tier,” the filing said.
Comcast also suggests that Tennis Channel may not be just some little independent channel. In its FCC filing, Comcast says Tennis Channel has been cagey about who all its owners are and asks the agency to force the network to disclose whether satellite broadcaster DirecTV Inc. has a stake in the service. DirecTV, of course, competes head-to-head with Comcast and is also involved in a channel dispute with the cable giant.
This is not the first time Tennis Channel has gone after a distributor. Last year it got into a tussle with Cablevision over very similar issues and Cablevision pretty much took the same stance that Comcast took.
-- Joe Flint