SBD/Issue 237/Sports Media

Cablevision Plans To Launch Tennis Channel On Sports Tier

Cablevision's battle with Tennis Channel flared up again yesterday afternoon, when the N.Y.-area cable operator announced plans to launch the channel in two days on its sports tier and Tennis Channel executives huddled with lawyers to see if Cablevision could launch it. Cablevision believes it has the right to launch the channel on its sports tier ($5.95 per month) thanks to a deal Tennis Channel struck seven years ago with a group called the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), which is a coalition of small and mid-sized cable operators that negotiates bulk contracts with program networks for small cable systems. Cablevision shocked Tennis Channel execs by joining the NCTC as a member, which would give it access to its carriage deals. "The final step in the process will be the Tennis Channel providing its broadcast signal to Cablevision as required by its contract with the NCTC," Cablevision said in a release. But Tennis Channel Chair & CEO Ken Solomon suggested a Friday launch was improbable, saying Cablevision's NCTC deal "is riddled with problems." He cited NCTC rules about a 30-day notification period before gaining access to a program network and prohibitions on any of its members putting out a unilateral press release. Solomon said he was not consulted before Cablevision put out its release, adding that he first found out about Cablevision's plan earlier this afternoon as the release was being distributed. He immediately met with his legal team. In a telephone interview just an hour after seeing Cablevision's plans, Solomon accused Cablevision of conducting "bad faith negotiations," and said the MSO's membership in NCTC is "one of the craziest things I've ever heard -- NCTC was created to give the nation's smallest cable operators a voice, not for a cable operator like Cablevision, which has a virtual monopoly in much of the New York market." Solomon also called Cablevision's move a "back-handed compliment. I've never heard of a major distributor joining the NCTC just to get a single service." If the deal meets legal muster, Cablevision plans to launch the network on its sports tier, allocating channels 399 and 795 for the standard and hi-def feed (John Ourand, THE DAILY).

FINDING A LOOPHOLE? On Long Island, Neil Best cites a source "familiar with the often convoluted workings of TV distribution" as saying that he was "intrigued by Cablevision's tactic, which he called 'creative'" (NEWSDAY, 8/27). The NCTC said that Cablevision "joined the organization 'recently,'" but Tennis Channel Senior VP/Distribution Patrick Wilson said that he "was told by an NCTC member that Cablevision had joined Wednesday." Wilson: "That says to me that it joined the NCTC in an effort uniquely designed to try to access their way into a deal for the Tennis Channel that was cut in 2002 for small providers." Cablevision VP/Media Relations, Cable & Communications Jim Maiella said that the company has a "'valid affiliation agreement' to carry the Tennis Channel, 'and we expect the Tennis Channel to authorize its signal.'" Meanwhile, Solomon said that Cablevision "had not hinted during discussions as recently as Sunday that it would use the NCTC contract as a way to carry the network to a limited part of its subscriber universe" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/27).

DISH SERVED COLD: CABLEFAX DAILY writes the message sent in yesterday's moves was "don't mess with Cablevision." It "appears that Tennis' pricey media campaign last week targeting" Cablevision's lack of coverage of the net in advance of the US Open was the "straw that broke the camel's back" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/27).

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