Patrick Gottsch, founder of independent programmer RFD-TV, will tell Congress that Comcast's move to drop the network in a couple of states appeared to be to favor its own content, and that Comcast should reverse that decision as well as carry the channel in HD as well as standard.
That is according to written testimony for a May 8 oversight hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on the Comcast/Time Warner Deal.
A Comcast source said the company had legitimate business reasons for reducing RFD carriage.
Gottsch calls Comcast a "a vertically integrated powerhouse with a track record of favoring affiliated programming channels."
"When an independent programmer becomes stronger and more competitive, its ratings increase and Comcast’s incentives to
foreclose that competition increase as well. Comcast has the strength to foreclose such competition now, and will be in an even stronger position to do so following its merger with Time Warner Cable," he says.
Gottsch suggested he was speaking from experience. He claims that following Comcast's merger with NBCU, it stopped launching FTD-TV and dropped it from systems in Colorado and New Mexico, or some 43% of its Comcast distribution, replacing it with Al Jazeera America.
"Sadly, we fear RFD-TV may have been a victim of its own success. In response to RFD-TV’s increasing popularity and viewership, especially in the Adult 50+ demographic, Comcast removed RFD-TV from markets where RFD-TV’s viewership was especially high – perhaps favoring Comcast’s lower-viewed but affiliated Retirement Living TV (RLTV) network , which targets the same age Adult 50+ demographic."
RFD-TV's solution to restoring cable diversity was straightforward: Restore and expand RFD carriage. "To preserve the choice and diversity in programming," Gottsch told the legislators, "including access to rural independent programming, that consumers in both rural and urban areas enjoy, Comcast should reverse its decision to stop carrying RFD-TV and begin distributing RFD-HD in its service territories."
Comcast had no comment, but a Comcast source said the company had good business reasons for reducing carriage, including lack of demand for the channel in mostly urban and suburban markets and the need to reclaim bandwidth for HD channels and advanced services. The source said RFD appeals to a discrete audience not generally reflective of those urban/suburban clusters and pointed out the channel is available on satellite.
Comcast has an 8% interest in Retirement Living Television, but the channel is a different demo an audience from RFD, said the source, and has nothing to do with the carriage decisions about the latter.