FCC Bureau Seeks Fine for Comcast in Tennis Channel Dispute

Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. pay TV service, favored its own sports programming over the Tennis Channel in violation of federal rules and should be forced to distribute the network on equal terms, regulators said.

Comcast should include Tennis Channel on a broadly distributed tier within 30 days on terms similar to its own Golf Channel and Versus sports networks, the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau said in a recommendation to Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard L. Sippel in Washington.

The company “favored its affiliated networks” over Tennis Channel, causing limited distribution and poor channel placement for the independently owned network, the bureau said. The agency argued that Philadelphia-based Comcast saw the three networks as competitors, citing evidence of similar ratings and demographics. Tennis Channel filed a complaint in January 2010.

The parties will make oral arguments to Sippel tomorrow at the FCC in Washington, according to Neil Grace, an agency spokesman. Each side will get 30 minutes to present their case. There is no deadline for Sippel’s decision, he said.

John Demming, a Comcast spokesman, declined to comment.

The FCC recommended Sippel fine Comcast $375,000 and force the company to carry Tennis Channel near Golf Channel and Versus or with other sports channels. Comcast frequently assigns Golf Channel and Versus channel numbers in the 7 to 20 range while Tennis Channel is typically assigned a dial number in the low 700s, according to evidence presented to the bureau.

“Because viewers frequently start at the lowest number and surf up until they find a channel of interest, lower channel assignments are always preferable,” the bureau said.

Channel Neighborhoods

DirecTV, Dish Network Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS carry Golf Channel, Versus and Tennis Channel in the “same sports neighborhood,” according to the recommendation, which was reported on July 9 by the trade publication Multichannel News.

The closely held Tennis Channel, based in Santa Monica, California, is owned by investors that include Apollo Partners and Bain Capital Ventures, according to the company’s website.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, filed a complaint last month with the FCC accusing Comcast of refusing to place Bloomberg Television in a channel grouping with other news stations, such as CNBC.

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