Comcast, Tennis Channel Verbiage Volley Proves Leverage Matters

Who knew the funniest guy in showbiz was working for Comcast’s PR department?

As NBC and other networks struggle to find hit comedies, who knew the funniest guy in showbiz was working for Comcast’s PR department?

Asked about the litigation involving the Tennis Channel — which has maintained that Comcast exhibited favoritism toward sports networks it owns, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network, at Tennis’ expense — the spokesman responded, “Comcast’s decision to carry Tennis Channel was the product of legitimate business considerations, not affiliation.”

See what they did there? Ha ha, ha ha ha.

But wait, it gets better. Comcast has also sought to justify its actions by saying Tennis Channel doesn’t possess the same appeal as the Golf Channel. Since both are relatively narrow sports most desirable in media terms for attracting an upper-income bracket, issuing such a straight-faced assertion requires balls, and not of the golf-sized variety.

Major Hollywood players have always used their clout to gain a competitive advantage, from selling TV shows to booking movies. It’s as much a part of the atmosphere, of the culture, as expensive cars and lying about how much you liked someone’s last project.

Frankly, what’s the point of being a global media conglomerate if you can’t, you know, throw your weight around?

Indeed, in an increasingly uncertain marketplace, one can argue these companies would be remiss if they didn’t explore every reasonable avenue to maximize returns and shareholder value.

While there are rules to curtail these practices, the key word in Comcast’s statement, “legitimate,” is where the trouble always begins — creating gray areas that inevitably lead to friction and amusing press releases.

Because so many decisions are subjective and hardly amount to an exact science, there are various ways to explain choosing one commodity over another, and to debate whether that boils down to good business sense or more nefarious (and usually self-serving) motives.

Even so, the existence of federal guidelines has less prevented companies from exercising their corporate muscle than inspired them to find creative methods and to coin colorful euphemisms to mask (or more charitably, cast the most favorable light on) their underlying objectives, which is to devise the means of making two plus two equal five without merely pressuring their accounting departments to do it. Hence the sudden popularity of terms like “synergy” or “monetize.”

What’s different now is all the arrows are seemingly pointing toward an entertainment business that’s becoming more a la carte and directly transactional — as in, “If you want this particular show or channel, pay for it.”

Technology threatens to break the major players’ chokehold on the process, or at least pry open cracks in their armor. Taken to its extremes, the promise of new devices and means of delivering content can help level the playing field, allowing smaller players to overcome and bypass institutional handicaps by peddling their wares directly to the consumers.

Another recent forecast of a shift in this direction came from media analyst Craig Moffett, who maintains that cord-cutting — the phenomenon of people dumping cable or satellite dishes to access programming more inexpensively online — is real, a potentially chilling prospect for multichannel video programming distributors.

Witness the dispute between Cablevision and Viacom, with the cable owner arguing the studio’s practice of bundling its less-desirable channels with higher-profile ones represented an “all-or-nothing approach” that is “illegal and anti-consumer.” It’s merely the latest in a series of similar conflicts, which — even with all those fraying cords — show little sign of abating.

In theory, it would be wonderful if everyone every TV show, movie or piece of talent could be fairly judged as a free agent, standing alone and evaluated based on individual merit.

That said, those accustomed to a media world built on leverage aren’t going to yield their traditions and perks without a fight. So for now, if you hope to make a bundle, it’s still probably much better to have a bundle.

More Voices

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Tom Hanks Mr Rogers A BEAUTIFUL

    Tom Hanks' Portrayal of Mister Rogers May Put Him Back in Oscar's 'Neighborhood'

    Sony recently hosted a SAG-AFTRA screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Marielle Heller-directed drama starring Matthew Rhys as a magazine writer who befriends Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. While the screening didn’t include a guild Q&A with cast or the film’s creative team, the audience was greeted with a video message from [...]

  • Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese,

    Martin Scorsese and 'The Irishman' Enter Oscar Race With World Premiere at NYFF

    Even with its three-hour run time and a short 28 days in theaters before it’s available on Netflix, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is likely to be a major contender at the Oscars. The 57th New York Film Festival opened on Friday night with the world premiere of the epic real-life mob drama. Scorsese and his [...]

  • Brad Pitt Once Upon a Time

    How Much Does Hitting the Awards Season Circuit Really Matter to Stars Like Brad Pitt?

    “Do you want an Oscar?” That’s the first question one top awards consultant asks any potential contender when they first start talking. Everyone is wondering how Brad Pitt would answer that question these days. He recently raised eyebrows and made headlines when he proclaimed that he would not be campaigning this awards season. “Oh, man. I’m [...]

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Barry Bill Hader

    Emmys 2019: Clear Favorites and Top Challengers for This Year's Winners (Column)

    If this felt like the longest, most expensive Emmy campaign in history, you might be right. For one thing, the 2019 Primetime Emmys will be held Sept. 22, which is the latest the ceremony has taken place since 2013. That also happened to be the last year of TV’s quaint, pre-streaming era, before outlets like [...]

  • Fleabag Succession Emmys

    Could 'Fleabag' and 'Succession' Be Spoilers on Emmy Night? (Column)

    At the onset, this year’s Emmy Awards felt a bit anticlimactic, as the final seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” appeared to have this year’s drama and comedy categories locked up before campaigning even began. But that’s how upsets happen: Just when we’re pretty confident about how things might go, a couple of wild [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content