News

FCC Judge: Game, Set, Match to Tennis

1/02/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

A Federal Communications
Commission administrative law judge’s
ruling could place millions of new Comcast
subscribers on Tennis Channel’s side
of the distribution net in 2012.

Judge Richard Sippel, in a ruling issued
Dec. 20, “concluded that Tennis Channel
has satisfied its burden of proving that
Comcast Cable engaged in discrimination
in the selection, terms or conditions
of carriage on the basis of its non-affiliation
with Tennis Channel.”

If the ruling is approved by the full commission,
Comcast will have to pay $375,000
and is prohibited from discriminating
against Tennis vis-à-vis the NBC Sports
Network or Golf Channel, which Sippel determined
were similarly situated and affiliated
with Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

Should the FCC not overturn the ruling,
it will mark the first time a network
has prevailed in a program-carriage complaint
against a cable operator.

More important for Tennis, which currently
counts some 2.7 million Comcast
subscribers, the decision could push its
subscriber base with the nation’s largest
distributor toward 20 million and its overall
carriage to some 50 million.

Network officials said it was their understanding
that rollouts would commence
following full FCC approval,
noting that the ALJ order directs Comcast
to “proceed as soon as practicable
with remediation.”

For its part, Comcast maintains the legal
volleying is not over.

“Comcast has the contractual right to
distribute Tennis Channel as it does currently,
and Comcast firmly believes that
the exercise of that right to minimize
costs to consumers is not discrimination,”
Comcast vice president of government
communications Sena Fitzmaurice
said after the ruling. “Moreover, this decision
purports to supersede an existing
contract between two private parties,
which is unprecedented in the programcarriage
context.”

Comcast didn’t return queries by presstime seeking
an update on the situation.

Elsewhere, Tennis continues to negotiate
with Verizon Communications’ FiOS
TV for reinstatement on the telco’s video
platform.

“We’re still in talks with Verizon,” Tennis
spokesman Eric Abner said. “Hopefully,
an agreement will come in time for the
Australian Open [which begins Jan. 16].”

Verizon had been carrying Tennis
as part of the nine-year National Cable
Television Cooperative contract, calling
for sports-tier placement, that expired on
Sept. 3, before a new deal went into effect
the next day with the co-op for digital-
basic carriage. In turn, Tennis pulled
its signal from Verizon, which had been
proffering the network on its Ultimate
service level.

A Verizon spokeswoman noted: “We
continue to talk and remain hopeful that
we can put Tennis Channel back on.”

October
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