SBD/Issue 163/Sports Media

Roberts Tempers Comments On ESPN, Talks Up "Partnership"

Will Roberts Battle ESPN?

Comcast President & CEO Brian Roberts declined to comment Friday after Liberty Media Chair John Malone called on him "to support a drive to let consumers drop sports and other high-priced basic cable channels," according to USA TODAY's David Lieberman. Malone said that "the only ones who have enough power to stop ESPN and others from steeply raising prices each year are 'Congress, or a courageous Brian Roberts.'" But Roberts "took a dovish position in response to a broad question about operators' relationship with programmers." Roberts: "We need to have a partnership with the programming community. We don't need new laws. We should be able to work (differences) out in the marketplace. We need each other" (USA TODAY, 5/19). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Farrell reported while Roberts was "preaching unity, he also hinted that new technologies on the horizon could be more of a threat to programmers than a decline in affiliate fees." Roberts said that he "saw the video-on-demand platform serving as the launching pad for personalized television, and he used ESPN ... as an example." Roberts said that in the "not-too-distant future, technology would allow a cable operator to take a show like ESPN's 'SportsCenter' and split it into 10 segments, each of which viewers could choose depending on their preferences" (MULTICHANNELNEWS.com, 5/16).

DO UNTO OTHERS: The SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Andy Bernstein reports Cox Communications, which "primarily is a cable system operator but also owns regional channels in some markets," is offering its New Orleans RSN "to other cable operators on a tiered basis." Cox spokesperson Bobby Amirshahi: "In order for us to be consistent with what we're saying across the company, we're certainly going to allow it to be carried on digital." Bernstein notes Cox was unable to reach carriage deals for the RSN on Time Warner and Charter this season, meaning Hornets games "reached only about 600,000 homes, almost all on Cox systems and representing barely one-third of the cable homes" in the New Orleans market (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/19 issue).

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