Comcast: NFL Net Belongs On Sports Tier
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/21/2008 7:30:00 AM
Comcast delivered its counterpunch in the battle of the giants Friday.
Comcast says the NFL Network belongs on a sports tier rather than the more widely distributed expanded basic tier because of the channel's high license fees and limited number of games.
That was just one of the arguments the cable operator made to the FCC Friday in response to a program access complaint filed by the NFL Network last month.
"The complaint is a blatant example of regulatory gamesmanship. It is an attempt to repudiate agreements that were freely entered into by two sophisticated parties, one of which is the most lucrative and powerful professional sports enterprise in the world," said Comcast.
Comcast argues the complaint lacks not only substantive merit but is procedurally deficient.
In its complaint, the NFL Network told the FCC that the cable operator had discriminated against the channel by putting it on a premium digital sports tier for which customers must pay, while carrying its own sports channels on the more widely viewed analog basic tier that costs no extra.
Comcast argues that was, instead, a reasonable business decision and pointed to other cable operators who either carry the channel on a sports tier as well or not at all.
“Comcast continues to deny millions of fans fair access to quality NFL programming by placing NFL Network on a narrow, expensive sports tier," said the NFL in response to Comcast's response. "Meanwhile, Comcast-owned sports networks that are less popular are included in broader tiers that virtually all cable customers must buy, and are thus more widely distributed. Comcast uses its control over access to millions of homes to discriminate against independent programmers and unfairly favor its own programming.”
Comcast's response came the same day there were reports that the NFL Network was in talks with ESPN about pooling their resources to make the channel more attractive to cable operators and boost distribution, perhaps by combining it with ESPN Classic.
NFL's pending deal with ESPN appears to best Comcast's strategy. If the Dems win the White House, somebody's bound to bring up the subject of vertical integration. Comcast and other MSOs with programming interests clearly favor their own channels in terms of channel and tier position, arguably to the detriment of unaffiliated competitors. This raises antitrust issues. If the political climate changes next year, look for someone to raise the "common carrier" model as a solution.
Adam Smith - 6/23/2008 12:39:00 AM EDT
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