Co-Op Checks OLN Carriage

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More than five weeks after it dropped the puck on its National Hockey League coverage, OLN is still getting called off-sides over carriage concerns.

The National Cable Television Cooperative fired a slap shot at the Comcast Corp.-owned service in the form of a complaint in a Kansas District State Court, arguing that the network has breached its licensing deal with the organization’s members by requiring minimum subscriber-distribution levels for its NHL telecasts.

40% MANDATE DISPUTE

The complaint, filed Nov. 7, claims that OLN, in a letter to NCTC officials this past September, violated its current multiyear deal by forcing members of the cable co-op, which represents 6,300 cable systems serving 14 million subscribers in programming and equipment deals, to distribute OLN to at least 40% of their subscribers in order to receive the network’s package of 50 regular-season NHL games, the playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals telecasts.

Systems not meeting the subscriber-penetration requirements would face a deletion of the games or an undefined surcharge to carry the NHL telecasts, the complaint said.

“OLN’s imposition of penetration requirements and OLN’s asserted right to impose surcharges is completely at odds with the certainty our members have bargained for and the members’ ability to serve their customers’ best interests,” NCTC interim president and CEO Tom Gleason said in a statement, adding that the NCTC’s current OLN deals provide members with clearly defined rates and carriage requirements.

But OLN spokeswoman Amy Phillips said in a statement that the network “does not understand NCTC’s lawsuit. We have been providing NCTC with the full package of NHL games on OLN at no additional cost to NCTC or its members.”

NCTC’s suit does not represent the first distribution disconnect for OLN and the NHL.

Last month, Cablevision Systems Corp. capitulated to OLN’s 40% subscriber-penetration requirement by moving the network from a sports tier to its highly penetrated basic-cable tier. Earlier in the month, Adelphia Communications Corp. also agreed to OLN’s positioning.

EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network, however, dropped OLN after failing to reach a carriage deal regarding the network’s NHL package.

ESPN SKATES AGAIN

Elsewhere, the NHL’s former cable carrier, ESPN, got back into the game last week.

After passing on an option to renew its TV rights package, ESPN secured NHL content rights to several new-media platforms: ESPN.com (espn.go.com), Mobile ESPN, broadband service ESPN360, Mobile ESPN Publishing and ESPNDeportes.com (espndeportes.espn.go.com).

In addition, ESPN Classic will air one archival NHL game each week, and the network will be allowed to encore select games throughout the season as Instant Classics.

Deal terms were not disclosed.

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