Comcast Moves ESPN Into Better Neighborhood

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Over the holidays here in Chicago, when some people looking to watch a basketball game on ESPN  tuned in to Channel 29, instead of seeing Dwight Howard and the Magic, they got a message from Comcast directing them to the network’s new home: Channel 3.

In a TV world where channel position still matters, Channel 3 is beachfront property. And with some people speculating that once it takes control of NBC Universal that conquering the world of sports will be a priority, it would seem to be a huge upset for the cable giant to be handing over a prime asset to what could be a potential rival.

The rivalry is certainly real enough in Chicago, where ESPN put up one of its first local websites and Comcast SportsNet (Channel 37), which carries  the Bulls, Blackhawks, White Sox and Cubs, is producing tons of original content for its own site.

So what did ESPN do to get such favorable treatment? According to a Comcast spokesperson, “the ESPN channel move is just a part of a broader effort to get more consistency in channel lineup across our service area in Chicago.”

ESPN was already on Channel 3 in parts of Chicago; Channel 3 had been vacant in the rest of the city. FX has the next lowest number channel position among basic cable channels at No. 24.

While ESPN starts 2011 in a lower channel position in the windy city, you can bet it will soon be joined by Syfy, one of NBCU’s cable channels.

A few years back, it was moved from its respectable neighborhood of Channel 73, between Comedy Central and Vh1 to channel 169, where it’s near Jewelry TV and GSN, to make room for the Golf Channel. If you know which major cable operator owns that network, you know Syfy’s handicap is about to improve.