The Perils of Independence

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Cheers to Fox, which obtained deals with all top multichannel distributors to convert Speed to the new, higher-priced Fox Sports 1. The deals underscore the power of TV sports, and the clout big programmers still wield with distributors.

Commiserations to RFD-TV, which on Aug. 13 came off Comcast’s lineups in Colorado and New Mexico, sweet-spot markets for the channel’s agricultural, equestrian and nostalgic country programs, like Hee Haw.

Channel founder Patrick Gottsch called me to express his outrage. “As an independent, this really bothers me,” he said. “This just reeks.”

RFD-TV has seven weekly shows originating from Colorado, he said, and more than 3,000 emails of support were forwarded from RFD-TV to Comcast in the days leading up to the drop. He sent 34 of them to me, and they weren’t form letters.

Clara O. Lett of Aurora, Colo., using her son’s email address, wrote: “I am 80 years old and live in a big city (Denver), but grew up on ranches throughout Kansas and Colorado, so RFD-TV is like an old friend. It keeps me company all evening.”

Gottsch had other arguments, based on ratings and the subscriber lift he said Comcast obtained when it launched RFD-TV in the region in 2010 with substantial marketing support. “This is not some unwatched channel that’s being dropped that’s charging too much,” he said.

It boils down to leverage, or lack of it. Gottsch had to agree to a clause that let Comcast drop the channel after giving notice. Comcast did so, at the same time it added new high-definition programming, including Cooking Channel, Smithsonian Channel and Disney Junior.

Cindy Parsons, vice president of external affairs for Comcast’s West Division, acknowledged the changes in midweek, saying, “our goal is to continually strive to add value to our Xfinity TV services,” including with HD content, and “we are regularly evaluating the content we offer in all of our areas.”

In the meantime, Chris Kennison, a steel-guitar player in Fort Collins, Colo., emailed Gottsch to report having switched to DirecTV. “Comcast needs to get a clue,” he said.

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