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FCC Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel has "ruled in favor of the Tennis Channel in its program carriage complaint against Comcast," according to John Eggerton of BROADCASTING & CABLE. The ruling "marks the first time a network has prevailed in a program carriage complaint against a cable operator, both cable operators and program carriage complaint filers and should mean a big boost in the number of cable subs who can get the channel." Comcast will have to "pay $375,000 and is prohibited from discriminating against Tennis vis-à-vis Versus (NBC Sports Network as of Jan. 2) or Golf Channel, which Sippel determined were similarly situated, and which are affiliated with Comcast's NBCUniversal." Sippel noted Tennis Channel, Versus and Golf Channel were "sufficiently similar -- sports channels targeting similar audiences -- that disparate treatment constituted discrimination." The judge also ruled Comcast's "discrimination against Tennis Channel in favor of Golf Channel and Versus was based solely on affiliation." Comcast owns both Golf Channel and Versus. However, Sippel did "not agree with Tennis Channel that its tier placement threatened its survival, but said that it did not have to show it would go under to show that Comcast had unreasonably restrained its ability to compete." Comcast Corporation VP/Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice "pointed out that the decision is still subject to review by the full commission and that it will take its case to an appeals court if necessary" (BROADCASTINGANDCABLE.com, 12/20).
SUBSCRIBER BOOST: Tennis Channel Chair & CEO Ken Solomon said of the ruling, "They were ordered to proceed as soon as is practicable. So we’re preparing to add between 20 million and 23 million households." In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes that would boost Tennis Channel’s "number of subscribers to more than 50 million; currently, Comcast customers have to pay an extra few dollars to get the tennis network on a digital sports tier." Solomon said the ruling is a "watershed for programmers." He "declined to say what the effect of the decision would be on the Tennis Channel's long-running dispute with Cablevision" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/21). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Schechner & Futterman note if upheld, the ruling "could force broader distribution of a host of smaller cable channels -- especially sports channels whose rising costs have become a source of concern in the cable business." Sports-team owners could have an "easier time getting distribution for their own regional sports networks." Currently their main obstacle is the "unwillingness of cable operators to put a network of interest to only a fraction of their viewers on a tier available to a broad number of their subscribers." But if independent owners can now "claim discrimination in markets where the cable operator owns a sports channel, they may be able to wrestle wider carriage-which would likely drive up cable bills." That effect of the ruling could be "felt relatively soon in Los Angeles, where the Major League Baseball's Dodgers are for sale" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/21).
NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp confirmed that NFL Network may "increase its slate of eight live games as soon as next season," according to Aaron Kuriloff of BLOOMBERG NEWS. Rolapp said that the number of additional games "hasn’t yet been decided" by the NFL, which last week "extended by a record nine years its broadcast rights agreements" with CBS, Fox and NBC. Rolapp said yesterday, "Doing these contracts essentially opened up a way to create more games for the NFL Network, and I think it’s very likely you’ll see those next year. How many games is still in question, but I think we’re committed to putting more games on the network and improving the service." Kuriloff noted NFL Net gets about $0.73 per sub, making it the "fourth-most expensive in the U.S." After years of "feuding with multichannel operators over pricing, the network is now in about 60 million homes, about half of U.S. homes with television, according to Nielsen." Rolapp said that additional NFL Network games will "come from the Sunday schedule, after the league was able to give broadcasters additional digital rights and other perks to help increase the value of their packages" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 12/20). Despite the "likelihood of additional" "TNF" games, Rolapp said there is "no plan for a surcharge for our affiliates." MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Mike Reynolds noted in "mapping its primetime equation, NFL Net will have to replace one game, as the Thanksgiving night contest it has been airing shifts to NBC under the new rights deal, beginning in 2012" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 12/18).
SUPER STREAMING: The NFL announced yesterday Super Bowl XLVI will be streamed online and to phones for the first time, and NFL Senior VP/Media Business Development Hans Schroeder said, "Whether it's just for a quarter if somebody has to run out to the store to get something they forgot, now they can stay connected to the game." Schroeder: "With such a big television audience, it will be interesting to see the expanded reach." NBC's streams for its "Sunday Night Football" broadcasts "typically average 200,000-300,000 viewers," and the net has "seen no evidence it hurts the traditional broadcasts' healthy TV ratings" (AP, 12/20). In N.Y., Claire Atkinson notes for those who "own Verizon 3G phones, there will be a $10 charge to access the Super Bowl via Verizon Video, the service that includes the NFL app, while 4G phone owners will get it for free" (N.Y. POST, 12/21). Meanwhile, a CTV spokesperson said that the net "has no plans to follow NBC's lead at this time" (TORONTO STAR, 12/21).
ESPN is moving its NBA studio show to L.A. this season “to take advantage of an increased role for Magic Johnson and the close proximity to some of the biggest NBA stars and celebrities,” according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. The show will now tape at ESPN's L.A. Production Center at L.A. Live. Hannah Storm and Stuart Scott “have exited as pregame hosts,” as the net will have Johnson, Jon Barry, Chris Broussard and Michael Wilbon “in a free-flowing format, without a set host.” While ESPN execs claim that “this isn't a direct response to TNT's ‘Inside the NBA,’ clearly those in Bristol hope to duplicate the same chemistry that has made Turner's show the best in class.” ESPN Senior VP & Managing Editor of Studio Production Mark Gross said, "We are kind of thinking, 'Do we really need a traditional host for this show? Can't it be these four guys talking about the NBA like they would be talking about the NBA in the hallway or over dinner?' We are taking a chance and trying something different from most of our shows.” Deitsch writes ESPN has “high hopes for Johnson, but while he's one of the most likable guys in basketball and a great ambassador for the sport, he's an average analyst (at best) with a below-average voice.” It “doesn't help that Wilbon genuflects at his presence nearly every time they are together on air.” Still, the “bold, outside-the-box changes to the studio show are to be applauded.” The quartet “has the potential for interesting talk,” and it is a “smart group, even with Broussard's and Wilbon's tendency to show certain players an inordinate amount of love” (SI.com, 12/21).
SHAQ ATTACK: TNT's Charles Barkley appeared on NBC's "The Tonight Show" last night and discussed the addition of Shaquille O’Neal to the "Inside the NBA" crew. Barkley said, “Me and Shaq are going to have so much fun together. … I think he's going to be great on television. We're excited to have him.” NBC's Jay Leno referenced a promo for the show featuring O'Neal and said, “It looked like he took a little shot at you.” Barkley: “I had seen that before. That’s the people who I work with at TNT taking a shot at me because I take a lot of shots at them at work. That's OK. I'll take that. Welcome, Shaq” (“The Tonight Show,” NBC, 12/20).
Fox Sports no longer holds broadcast rights to the BCS college bowl games, but it has partnered with sister News Corp. entity The Daily to create a new iPad application devoted to the college bowl season. "College Bowl Guide" features news, analysis, photos, video content from Fox analyst Charles Davis and other material. The free application will be supported by advertising and receive updates after each game day. The project follows a more static iPad app developed last summer by The Daily, billed as a tablet-native national news outlet, to preview the NFL season. "Introducing more sports fans to The Daily and what we're doing is definitely an important objective of what we're doing here," said The Daily Publisher Greg Clayman. Fox also promoted the app last Sunday during its NFL game coverage.
Golf Channel’s talk show “Morning Drive” is approaching the end its first year on the air, wrapping up a debut that has been well-received throughout the golf community. The show built an audience through the first quarter of the year and has held it since, peaking during majors weeks and other big moments or events, such as when Phil Mickelson started practicing with a belly putter one morning at the Deutsche Bank Championship. The network is also on track for its most-viewed year ever, fueled by viewership gains for events on the PGA Tour (+23%), LPGA tour (+30%), European PGA Tour (+23%) and the Champions Tour (most-watched year yet). Golf Channel President Mike McCarley took some time to discuss highlights from the first year of “Morning Drive” and a few of the network’s plans heading into ’12.
Q: Has “Morning Drive” achieved its editorial goals during year one of the show?
McCarley: For those in golf, the show became a "must stop" for any tour, including getting winners on for the "Champions Tuesday" segments. At the beginning of the year, I would tell you we were asking people to be on the show. The biggest compliment to the show, or the biggest mark of success, was that about half way through the year, everyone in golf was asking to be on the show. So it completely changed the conversation. ... If you look at the guest list, everyone has been on, and most several times. It sets the agenda of what’s important in the sport for the day or for the week or for a certain tournament. It really helps provide a longer forum on which people can tell stories and have conversations. And I think it’s been very well received. Every event I’ve gone to, the one question I’ve gotten more than any other is about "Morning Drive." People have really reacted positively.
Q: Viewership for the show was up 68% compared to programming in the same time slot last year. How can the show continue to grow the audience in ’12?
McCarley: One of the things we tried to focus on this year was deciding the right times to expand the show. If it’s a time when there’s some breaking news or around the four majors or some of the other big weeks in golf. When can we expand the show? When can we go to seven days a week? When can two to three live hours turn into three or four live hours? I think you’ll be seeing more and more of that in ’12.
McCarley says one of favorite moments was
Arnold Palmer's first appearance on set
McCarley: There are definitely a few. A personal favorite of mine and some of the people on the show was when Arnold Palmer came in. Having him come in and be on set and walk around the halls and park in the space that’s always reserved for him was pretty special. Another fun moment was when (co-host Gary Williams) had his head-to-head competition with Tiger Woods (on EA Sports’ "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12"). Also when Gary caddied for Rory McIlroy and earned the nickname "Pin High Gary" and when we broke the news that Phil Mickelson had started using a belly putter. When you’ve got the stars of the game who are willing participants in the content of the show and are really part of the family you’re trying to create, that’s when you know the show is really starting to work.
Q: Looking at Golf Channel on the whole, how are ’12 ad sales shaping up for the network?
McCarley: 2012 is pacing very well. We’re closing the books on what will be the most-watched year in Golf Channel history, and that has been fueled by many things. One of those things was the coming together of NBCUniversal and Comcast. Being able to promote all of our shows on the broader platform that NBCUniversal provides us has given a lift in almost every daypart. That also gets back to the addition of "Morning Drive," more and improved news and instructional shows. Also the most-watched first and fourth quarters in network history. We made a significant investment in fourth quarter programming, including going out and buying rights to events in Australia and Asia. We were pretty blown away from the response we got from our viewers about primetime golf, and we’re looking to do more and more of that in the future. There were no tricks, it was simply time zones and the curvature of the earth to get that primetime golf on and it worked really, really well.
Q: Outside of anything Tiger Woods-related, what’s the golf story you’ll be following in ’12?
McCarley: The continued emergence of the young stars, on both the men’s and women’s side. If you look at the first-time winners this year, I think you’ve got a great story to tell and very bright future for golf. I think if you have some of the established stars continuing to win and the younger stars who will challenge them, it sets up very nicely for golf for years to come.