Appeals Court Rejects Tennis Channel’s Carriage Claim Against Comcast

Court overturns ruling that Comcast placed channel on less desirable cable system tiers

Novak Djokovic Tennis Channel
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the FCC’s ruling that Comcast unfairly placed Tennis Channel on less desirable cable system tiers from other sports channels in which Comcast has a significant stake.

The ruling was a blow to Tennis Channel’s protracted battle with the cable giant, one that has been watched closely in the industry as it represents the one of the few significant efforts to test program carriage regulations.

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC, in siding with the Tennis Channel on Tuesday, “failed to identify adequate evidence of unlawful discrimination.” The opinion was written by Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. Two other judge each filed concurring opinions.

In a statement, Tennis Channel said that they are “disappointed with today’s decision and respectfully disagree.”

They added that “Comcast’s clear pattern of discrimination against Tennis Channel in favor of the competing networks that it owns — as detailed at length by the FCC — warrants further review of the panel’s decision and we intent to seek that review.”

Comcast placed Tennis Channel on a more expensive and less broadly distributed sports tier, but the D.C. Circuit ruled that Comcast’s rejection of efforts to obtain broader carriage was “simply ‘a straight up financial analysis,” as one of its executives put it.”

“Neither Tennis not the Commission has invoked the concept that an otherwise valid business consideration is here merely pretextual cover for some deeper discriminatory purpose,” Williams wrote in the opinion.

In a statement, Comcast said that they are “pleased” with the ruling and that “Tennis Channel received exactly the carriage it bargained for and agreed to. Comcast’s decision to carry Tennis Channel was the product of legitimate business considerations, not affiliation.”