Cable Operators

Tennis Breaks Beyond Tiers in New NCTC Pact

9/05/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

At the stroke of midnight on Sept. 4,
more video subscribers for some members of the National
Cable Television Cooperative were able to see Tennis
Channel’s continuing coverage of the strokes being delivered
at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

For others, the network’s presentation of the Grand
Slam event sailed wide.

The Sunday morning deadline was when a new multiyear,
master affiliation pact with the NCTC for digitalbasic
positioning went into effect, and the co-op’s
original nine-year contract with the network, which
called for sports-tier carriage, expired.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but
Tennis Channel’s monthly rate card is reported to
range from 14 cents to 18 cents per subscriber.

SOME ARE DROPPING OUT

Individual members of NCTC, the Lenexa, Kan.-headquartered
outfi t that negotiates programming contracts
and purchases hardware for nearly 1,000 member companies,
had the option to accept or pass on the new affiliate
agreement.

As of press time late last week, an NCTC spokesman
said “a significant number of members” had indicated
they would “discontinue” their relationship with Tennis.
“Many more members will renew than will drop,”
he said, without specifying the number of systems or the
subscribers they service.

The spokesman said
the decision by those who
have elected to renew was
“an economic one. It’s not
the cost per subscriber,
but the number of subscribers
that have to pay
the fees.”

Tennis Channel chairman
and CEO Ken Solomon
said the NCTC’s deal
is in keeping with all of
the pacts the network has
signed since he joined it in 2005, when it counted some
3.5 million subscribers.

Prior to his arrival, most of Tennis’ distribution deals
were for sports tiers, placement that constrains adsupported
networks from growing broadly, Solomon said.
Tennis currently counts some 30 million subscribers.

When it signed its original NCTC pact, Tennis did not
sport the comprehensive lineup it does today: The network
didn’t hold the rights to any of the sport’s four major “Grand
Slam” events or U.S. Davis Cup matches, present a yearround
schedule with the top 100 tournaments in the sport,
or feature high-definition programming.

Tennis, which will provide some 300 hours from the U.S.
Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., now presents some 3,500
live match hours annually.

While Solomon is not sure what will happen in the shortterm,
relative to the Sunday morning deadline, he said,
“We’re confident in the long-term that we will have a net
gain of subscribers with NCTC’s membership.”

CABLEVISION QUANDARY

It was unclear at press time on what side
of the net Cablevision would fall with
NCTC’s new distribution deal. The New
York market’s predominant cable operator
in August mailed postcards to subscribers
indicating it has been working to
extend its agreement with the network,
but “it is possible that Tennis Channel
may no longer be available after Sept. 3.”

Last week, Cablevision issued the following statement:
“The Tennis Channel agreement runs until Sunday;
we’ve urged them not to pull the plug and extend it.
Under any scenario, Cablevision customers will see every
important U.S. Open match on ESPN 2, CBS, in 3D
and through the comprehensive free online offerings of
the USTA, which can be viewed on the computer or on
the television through our Optimum Link service, which
displays anything on the PC on the TV.”

Solomon said Tennis would “not pull the plug” and expressed
hope that Cablevision would “abide by the new
NCTC contract.”