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Tennis Channel in a rigged game with Comcast

Comcast maintains that it based its treatment of the Tennis Channel on sound business principles.

Some Baltimore tennis fans do not watch the Tennis Channel because carriers such as Verizon have dropped the channel. A portion of Comcast subscribers can view the Tennis Channel, but there could be even more viewers if Comcast would be more up front and stop playing a fixed game with the Tennis Channel.

The Tennis Channel in their FCC complaint states rightfully that Comcast has hid the Tennis Channel on the lesser watched sports tier while giving more visibility to the Golf Channel and Versus, two channels that compete with the Tennis Channel for advertising and which Comcast owns. The sports tier is also an option that requires an additional cost from the cable subscribers.

Ken Solomon, the Tennis Channel's chairman and chief executive, says that of Comcast's 23 million subscribers, about 10% buy the sports tier, about the same as on other major cable systems. This makes the Golf Channel available to all its subscribers and Tennis Channel to about 2 million.

Besides taking care of its own interests, Comcast’s one argument is that tennis’ appeal to TV viewers is declining. Tennis ratings are not near those of the NFL and other major sports, but the audience it does attract is an advertiser’s dream.

According to a survey by the market research firm Ipsos, Tennis Channel's viewers have the highest median household income ($153,900) and net worth ($688,000) of any of the 78 ad-supported cable networks. Golf Channel comes in fourth in both metrics.

This is ideal for companies selling luxury cars and other high end expensive items.

Even though tennis ratings might be declining, Comcast, which also owns NBC, tried very much to obtain the broadcast and cable rights to the Wimbledon finals for NBC and Versus, only to be outbid by ESPN which shares Wimbledon coverage with the Tennis Channel.

As for the Federal Communication Commission(FCC), their own enforcement staff agrees with the Tennis Channel that Comcast is protecting Golf Channel and Versus from competition including the Tennis Channel.

The staff says the FCC should require Comcast to make the Tennis Channel available to all subscribers on an equal billing with Golf Channel and Versus and give Comcast the maximum fine. The maximum fine is $375,000, which Comcast generates every 3.5 minutes.

As usual, the tennis fans in Baltimore and many other cities are limited in their chances to watch their sport. Hopefully Comcast will, in the truest business sense, try to satisfy all its customers.


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