Tennis Channel Files FCC Complaint

The Tennis Channel has filed a complaint about Comcast with the FCC, alleging the cable giant is discriminating against networks it doesn’t own.

The Tennis Channel’s complaint, filed Tuesday, points to Comcast’s carriage of the channel on a premium sports tier that is different from the one on which the cable operator carries its own Versus and Golf networks.

Comcast said in a statement it is offering the Tennis Channel in accordance with a carriage deal the two signed a few years ago.

The dispute comes at a time when Comcast is ramping up work to get regulatory approval for its deal to take a 51 percent stake in entertainment firm NBC Universal.

Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan said in a note to investors Wednesday that the regulatory review of the proposed acquisition could be burdened by recent carriage and retransmission consent battles.

“Ironically, we expect Comcast will be impacted by the many public retrans and carriage battles of other cable providers, because we believe Washington will use these battles to increase the regulatory rigor of the company’s purchase of the NBCU stake,” he argued.

According to the Tennis Channel’s FCC complaint, Comcast offers the network on a premium sports tier “received by a small fraction of Comcast subscribers while it carries Comcast-owned networks that compete with Tennis Channel on basic tiers available to far more subscribers at no additional charge.”

Golf Channel and Versus are among the most broadly distributed channels on Comcast cable systems, reaching almost all of its 23.8 million subscribers, while the premium sports tier that Tennis Channel is on reaches only about 2.6 million homes, according to the FCC complaint.

Comcast called the complaint groundless.

“Our contract with Tennis Channel, which the network freely negotiated and signed in 2005, specifically permits us to carry Tennis Channel on many different tiers, including as part of our Sports Entertainment Package, where we currently offer it to our customers,” the cable operator said.

“After steadily building the most comprehensive single-sport network in television over the past few years, in the first half of 2009 we had numerous discussions with Comcast,” said Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO of Tennis Channel. “We made offers with added incentives for it to move us to a competitive, broadly penetrated service tier, as it has done recently with the MLB, NHL and NBA channels, in which it has financial interests. But Comcast declined to do so.”

Tennis Channel argues it charges a per-subscriber rate that is about half the rate charged by Comcast’s Golf Channel and Versus, but broadcasts more than 2,700 hours per year of event coverage compared to 2,400 hours on the Golf Channel and 1,350 hours on Versus.