With its new National Cable Television Cooperative contract going into effect after midnight on Sept. 4, Tennis Channel is no longer part of Cablevision and Verizon FiOS TV's distribution rosters.
As of very early Sunday morning, Tennis, which is in the midst of presenting some 300 hours, including 75 of live match play, from the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, was no longer making its signal available to Cablevision. Sources indicate that the same holds true with the telco.
The NCTC, the Lenexa, Kan.-headquartered outfit that negotiates programming contracts and purchases hardware for nearly 1,000 member companies, and Tennis Channel inked a renewal last month calling for digital-basic positioning. That contract replaced their previous nine-year pact tied to sports tier positioning, which expired with the dawn of Sept. 4. Individual members of NCTC, including Cablevision and Verizon FiOS, had the option to accept or pass on the new affiliate agreement.
FiOS officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment very early Sunday morning.
At approximately 12:05 on Sept. 4 - about five minutes after Cablevision'scontract with the NCTC for sports tier carriage concluded - Tennis' screen froze. Subscribers to the New York metro area's predominant cable operator's iO Sports and Entertainment Pack, who had been watching the midnight edition of Tennis' U.S. Open Tonight, featuring hosts Lindsay Davenport and Pat O'Brien, saw the screen lock into a Garnier ad that ran during a commercial break in the program.
At around 12:30 a.m., the screen for the network's standard-definition feed showed the following statement over a background of two greenish,yellow tennis balls: "Cablevision's contract with Tennis Channel has expired. Tennis Channel has decided not to renew our agreement and has unfortunately pulled their programming from our customers."
A second screen read: "You can still watch extensive, live coverage of the US Open on CBS, ESPN2 and in 3D on iO TV Ch. 1300. Streaming live matches will also be available free online at usopen.org." A third directed viewers to optimum.com/tennis for more details.(That messaging continued on Sunday at 8:45 a.m.)
Earlier, Cablevision had issued the following statement: "The Tennis Channel appears to have pulled its signal off dozens of cable systems across the country, including Cablevision, after demanding significantly higher fees. Fortunately, viewers can still see every important U.S. Open match on ESPN 2, CBS, in 3D and through the comprehensive free online offerings of the USTA, which can be viewed on the computer or on the television through our Optimum Link service, which allows subscribers to view anything on their PC on their TVs."
Moments later, Television volleyed these remarks: "We regret that Cablevision has elected to no longer carry Tennis Channel under the terms of the network's new agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative - an organization Cablevision joined a few days before the 2009 US Open seemingly only to get access to Tennis Channel, under terms that the network had agreed to with much smaller operators seven years earlier. By not agreeing to the NCTC guidelines, as many other NCTC members have done, Cablevision has chosen to drop Tennis Channel and no longer offer it to its subscribers."
Tennis officials didn't immediately respond to e-mail queries very early Sunday morning about whether they had elected to pull the standard and high-definition signals, or if negotiations had taken place over the last few days.
Sources familiar with the situation, though, indicate that Tennis and Verizon are expected to resume distribution discussions on Sunday morning. However, there are no new scheduled talks set between the network and Cablevision.
Tennis chairman and CEO Ken Solomon, in an interview Thursday, said the network would "not pull the plug" and expressed hope that Cablevision would "abide by the new NCTC contract."
On Sunday morning, an NCTC spokesman stood by comments that he made on Sept. 1, when he noted that "a significant number of members" had indicated that they would "discontinue" their relationship with Tennis. However, "many more members will renew than will drop," he said, without specifying the systems or the number of subscribers they service. He declined to elaborate on Sept. 4.
Tennis, which for years had been negotiating for better positioning with Cablevision, and later equivalent carriage of the MSO's high school sports service, MSG Varsity, has been part of the operator's sports tier for almost two years. Cablevision became an NCTC member on Aug. 26, 2009, just days before the Open opened that year, opting to place Tennis on its sports pack through NCTC's master affiliate pact.
However, the network said it had legal issues with Cablevision's unilaterally putting out a press release about its wont to launch the service and that it wasn't given a 30-day notification period to make its signal available. As such, Tennis elected not to authorize the signal and none of its 240 hours of coverage from its inaugural presentation of the U.S. Open was available to Cablevision subscribers.
Tennis finally granted the signal authorization on Sept. 24, 10 days after Juan Martin del Potro defeated Roger Federer to end that year's tournament by capturing the men's singles title.
Since then, Tennis has been available as part of the MSO's sports pack on standard-definition channel 399 and HD channel 795. That package, comprising 23 networks, retails for $6.95 per month. Sources indicate that some 150,000 of Cablevision's 3 million digital-cable customers subscribe to it.