The National Cable Television Cooperative, functioning as a doubles partner to member Cablevision in the operator's distribution dispute with Tennis Channel, stepped onto the court Friday afternoon.
A spokesman for the coop, which operates as a programming and hardware purchasing agent for distributors, said the contract with Tennis Channel, calling for its positioning on a sports tier, is "enforceable and valid."
With the U.S. Open set to begin Aug. 31, Cablevision on Wednesday, citing its "recent" membership in the coop, said it wanted to launch Tennis in both standard and high-definition on its iO Sports Pak on Friday Aug. 28 and was waiting for the programmer to authorize the signal.
"Cablevision is also a participating member under our agreement with Tennis Channel, and as such is entitled to carry the network," NCTC said in a statement Friday afternoon.
Tennis, which has been seeking to gain a wider carriage berth with the New York DMA's predominant cable operator for years, cited such issues as extending 30-day notice before gaining access to the network and the unilateral press release Cablevision issued Wednesday afternoon as legal points of contention
To that end, NCTC said it was "unaware of any previous launch request where Tennis Channel delayed authorization for 30 days. The only real issue is if Tennis Channel feels it is prudent and appropriate to delay authorization, preventing Cablevision's customers from enjoying this year's U.S. Open."
Tennis is scheduled to provide 240 hours from Flushing Meadow, including 72 showcasing live match play.
On Friday, Tennis issued its own statement: "Cablevision, one of the nation's largest cable companies, is trying to use NCTC, a representative of the nation's smallest cable companies, to enable it to provide Tennis Channel only to a narrow band of its customers willing to pay a steep, premium subscriber fee. We have submitted a new proposal to Cablevision to provide Tennis Channel to its subscribers broadly and at no additional cost to them. Cablevision is trying to use NCTC as a PR ploy, and it will not work. If Cablevision were really interested in providing Tennis Channel to its customers, it would negotiate with us directly."
Earlier, Cablevision had issued its own statement on Friday afternoon, urging Tennis to make its service available to the operator's sports tier. The operator noted that it would make its iO Sports Pak free for the next month upon Tennis authorizing the signal for the launch of the service in both the standard (channel 399) and high-definition (channel 795) formats and that it had provided the programmer with all of the technical information it needs to "flip the switch."
Tennis CEO Ken Solomon in an Aug. 27 interview with Multichannel News indicated that the network had sent Cablevision a scaled-back offer from the one it had presented last weekend. Cablevision's Sports Pak currently carries 15 other networks and retails for $5.95 per month.
Asked what would happen if Tennis didn't activate the signal, NCTC said "the next step would be Cablevision's."
Presumably, that would put more lawyers into the distribution match.