SBD/August 24, 2011/Media

Tennis Channel Signs New Multiyear Affiliation Agreement With NCTC

Tennis Channel has signed a new multiyear affiliation agreement with the National Cable Television Cooperative, mandating broad distribution for the network by NCTC members who elect to carry the network. The previous agreement between Tennis Channel and NCTC, allowing carriage exclusively on sports tiers, was set to expire Sept. 3. The news comes on the eve of Tennis Channel's extensive coverage of the U.S. Open, which begins next Monday (THE DAILY). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds reported under the new pact, which runs through '16, "individual NCTC members can now elect to accept or pass on the new affiliate agreement." An NCTC spokesperson said that the cooperative "notified members of its new Tennis Channel agreement last week." Since then, "there have been some initial indications that some members may not opt to carry the network under the new deal, but no formal decisions." A Tennis Channel spokesperson said that it is "too early to gauge the reaction from NCTC members to the new affiliate pact." He said execs asked NCTC to "give the network a feel by early next week about who's in, who's not." Reynolds noted when it "signed its original NCTC pact, Tennis did not sport the comprehensive lineup it does today: The network didn't hold the rights to any of the sport's four major 'Grand Slam' events or U.S. Davis Cup matches, present a year-round schedule with the top-100 tournaments in the sport, or feature high-definition programming." For members that "do not renew the NCTC deal, they will miss the network's exclusive live presentation in primetime on Sept. 4 and the balance of its coverage during the tourney's second week." It is unclear whether Cablevision, which "engaged in high-profile contract volleying before Tennis' inaugural U.S. Open presentation with the 2009 event, will commit to the new NCTC contract" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 8/23). Cablevision in Aug. '09 "signed a deal for Tennis through NCTC that let it carry the net on a sports tier -- something Tennis had steadfastly refused to allow the MSO to do for years" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/24).

A HEALTHY DEBATE: WORLD TENNIS MAGAZINE's Charles Bricker noted ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez' husband works for IMG, which seems to be "one massive media conflict of interest." Fernandez on Sunday called a match on ESPN featuring IMG client Maria Sharapova, which "leaves you wondering how ESPN ... could allow this sort of obvious conflict to take place." Bricker wrote that Fernandez "should have recused herself. She shouldn’t be commenting on Federer, Sharapova or any other player who is in the IMG stable." But in "all fairness, Fernandez had a few mildly critical remarks to make about Sharapova" (WORLDTENNISMAGAZINE.com, 8/21). In a follow-up to his criticism, Bricker noted he received an e-mail from an IMG representative "displeased with the piece" about Fernandez. The agent wrote, "Do you really believe that Mary Joe thinks about IMG when she is commentating?" The agent indicated that he "saw nothing wrong with Fernandez," or any other tennis announcer with a potential conflict of interest, calling matches on TV. Bricker: "If you could crystallize the point being made by the IMG spokesman, it would be that (in my words), 'Lots of people do it, so it’s OK.' No, it’s not OK. Not just the tennis public, but the public in general is entitled to know if the people purporting to present them with media information have a vested financial interest in the people on whom they’re reporting. It doesn’t mean any of those people are doing a dishonest job, but at the very least the public deserves to know about their associations" (WORLDTENNISMAGAZINE.com, 8/23).
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