Altitude Network takes legal action against Comcast over antitrust

  

Just when you thought there may be some hope of the Avalanche and the Nuggets coming back to cable television when DirectTV settled on a deal, the negotiations between Altitude Network and Comcast took a turn for the worst.  Reported by Ben Strauss of the Washington Post, Altitude Sports has filed suit against Comcast for antitrust violations claiming the giant media outlet has used its power to dictate contract terms with the regional sports network.  The Colorado market has been without television broadcasts of the Avalanche and Nuggets, whom are both having good seasons, and you have to wonder how long this dispute could drag out.

Just last week, Colorado governor Jared Polis got involved when he tweeted out this letter he addressed  to President and CEO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment Jim Martin, demanding a deal be struck with Comcast and Dish Network.  Although the open letter from the governor may not carry and real weight, it definitely adds pressure that this isn’t a minor issue.

The Washington Post article goes on to describe the positions of both sides.

Altitude Sports position

According to Altitude’s complaint, though, Comcast is attempting to impose terms — both through lower payments to the network and by moving Altitude off its basic cable package — that it is not imposing on the RSNs that it owns around the country. The lawsuit also notes that Comcast has increased a line item for a regional sports fee for Denver cable customers in recent years at the same it has told the network that customers do not want to pay for the channel.

“Any independent RSN should be scared of what is happening,” said Bill Isaacson, a lawyer from the firm Bois Schiller Flexner, the firm representing Altitude. “If the terms they were asking for made economic sense then they would be asking the same thing of all their RSNs and as far as we know they are not.”

Comcast position

Comcast contends that its customer viewership information shows that Altitude is a little-watched network that has driven the overall cost of its cable package in Colorado and Utah up by asking for annual fee increases because of the fixed prices the network has already agreed to pay the teams.

“This is a meritless lawsuit in an intensely competitive market where Comcast has no competitive regional sports network and Altitude has multiple distribution alternatives,” Comcast wrote in the statement. “Instead of pursuing baseless litigation, Altitude should engage in responsible commercial negotiations that would allow Comcast to distribute its programming to those customers who want it without driving up costs for customers who do not.”

Impact

In a city that has been known to commit to their Denver Broncos through thick and thin, it’s unfortunate for the up-and-coming Avalanche and Nuggets who could really benefit from the exposure of their recent success.  Both teams made it to the playoffs last season and they could go deeper this season.

The biggest losers of this dispute are obviously the fans.  People all over the state and the country support these teams and television is their only means to support their favorite teams.  Secondly, the sports bars that show the local games.  Even though Altitude has made efforts to let bars stream the games, fans have either lost interest or turned to other forms of entertainment.

It’s hard to imagine if a bigger city had this issue what the protest from the fans would be.  Right now, it seems like most Colorado fans see this as a major bummer but it’s out of their hands and into the corporate bigwigs.  Maybe Altitude was wrong in using marketing smear campaign to put pressure on their business partners.  And maybe Comcast is trying to take advantage of a regional sports network that is very dependent on its major TV contract.  All we know is that this situation doesn’t look good for either party as customers take their fandom and their business elsewhere.

Center Ice Forums Altitude Network takes legal action against Comcast over antitrust

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