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Tennis Channel Scores FCC Victory Over Comcast

Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon is calling an administrative law judge’s decision a “watershed moment for independent programming networks and viewers.” The ruling from Richard L. Sippel found that Comcast violated anti-discrimination rules against independent programmers by favoring Golf Channel and Versus, in which it has a stake, and refusing to move Tennis Channel to the same tiers. Sippel also issued a $375,000 fine.

Tennis Channel opposed Comcast’s combination with NBC Universal, and this was the major reason. Its complaint was filed as the FCC was reviewing the merger, and although the commission gave the transaction the greenlight, Tennis Channel continued to pursue its case. Bloomberg TV eventually supported the merger, but it has since filed a complaint against Comcast claiming that they have failed to fulfill one of its conditions to place news channels within the same neighborhood on the cable lineup.

The FCC order directs Comcast to pursue “remediation” of Tennis Channel’s complaint as soon as “practicable.”

Comcast’s Sena Fitzmaurice noted in a statement that the decision is subject to review before the full commission and “if needed, the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

She said, “Comcast has the contractual right to distribute Tennis Channel as it does currently, and Comcast firmly believes that the exercise of that right to minimize costs to consumers is not discrimination.  Many other companies with no ownership interest in Tennis Channel have made similar decisions and some refuse to carry Tennis Channel at all.  Moreover, this decision purports to supersede an existing contract between two private parties, which is unprecedented in the program carriage context.”

Tennis Channel, however, believes that this is a victory for independent programmers to compete in today’s marketplace.

Solomon said, “Our request has been simple and clear since the beginning: we just want to be treated the same way major operators treat the networks they own that compete with us. From there we’re prepared to succeed or fail based on a level playing field.”

Sippel’s full decision is here.

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