Comcast has fired back to Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, calling the company a “serial litigant” and denying that it has failed to abide by its FCC obligations regarding carriage of minority-owned TV channels.
Entertainment Studios and the National Association of African-American Owned Media filed a petition with the FCC last month claiming that Comcast has failed to comply with commitments it made to the FCC as part of its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal. At that time, Comcast agreed to give broad carriage to 10 independently owned cable channels within 10 years of the merger’s closing. Four of those were to be majority owned by African-Americans.
Entertainment Studios claimed in its petition that two channels launched on Comcast to date — Magic Johnson’s Aspire and Sean Combs’ Revolt — were not majority owned by either Johnson or Combs. Comcast refuted that assertion in its April 4 response filing, noting that Combs and Johnson last week provided written statements to the FCC regarding their ownership interests.
Entertainment Studios also has a lawsuit pending against Comcast claiming racial discrimination over the fact that Comcast does not carry any of the seven cable channels owned by Entertainment Studios. Entertainment Studios and its affiliated NAAAOM org have been on a legal tear, filing discrimination suits against Comcast, AT&T and Charter Communications alleging bias in business negotiations.
In those complaints, Entertainment Studios has accused other prominent African-Americans and civil rights orgs including the NAACP and Urban League of being complicit with media giants, trading donations for support for mega-mergers that harm independent programmers.
AT&T settled its suit late last year and added Entertainment Studios’ channels to its lineup.
Entertainment Studios’ suit against Comcast was dismissed by a judge last year, but an amended complaint was refiled. Comcast has a motion pending to dismiss the amended suit.
In its FCC response, Comcast called Entertainment Studios’ allegations an “irresponsible, unsubstantiated, and defamatory attack” on the company.
“The petition is just the latest aspect of a strategy by (Entertainment Studios) owner Byron Allen to use litigation (and now the administrative process) as a means of obtaining his own desired business outcome—the carriage of ESI’s suite of networks—that the market has not supported,” Comcast wrote.
The racial discrimination claims by Entertainment Studios are an extreme example of tensions between programmers and distributors at a time when traditional MVPDs are under pressure to tamp down on programming costs.