The American Cable Association has strongly sided with regional operator Wave Broadband in a carriage dispute with Comcast over regional sports network programming.
“Comcast’s behavior is outrageous,” ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka declared in a statement released yesterday. “For years, ACA has drawn the FCC’s attention to the severe harms that a cable-affiliated programmer like Comcast-NBCU can cause to competitors and their subscribers."
This week, Kirkland, Washington-based Wave complained to the FCC about its carriage disagreement with Comcast’s NBCUniversal division. Wave’s carriage agreements for RSNs NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California and NBC Sports Northwest are about to expire.
Complicating renewal negotiations with Comcast is angst related to the expiring deals, which were signed back in 2013 and 2014. Wave delivers broadband and TV to around 129,000 customers in San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle (competing directly with Comcast for telecom services in some regions).
Wave, which applies no markup to the networks it bundles for video subscribers, has delivered the NBCU RSNs via its $11-a-month “Digital Sports” add-on tier. The problem is that not enough subscribers have signed onto Digital Sports to satisfy Comcast’s minimum distribution requirements.
Wave—which is currently being acquired by a private equity group—says that with Comcast/NBCU also licensing its RSNs to platforms like Sling TV, consumers are turning to cheaper over-the-top solutions to access the NBC Sports RSNs.
Comcast wants its RSNs put into Wave’s “Expanded Content” package, which includes cable networks found in most MVPD basic-tier packages. According to Wave, 21% of all customer fees paid for Expanded Basic already go to NBCU, more than any other programmer. Wave is reluctant to further bloat the package’s price ($63.14 for Seattle customers) and incur more cord cutting.
Comcast said it offered an extension to the current deal and wants to negotiate with the new owners once the acquisition closes.
ACA, meanwhile, sees the dispute is another example of Comcast mis-using the vertically integrated powers it gained back in 2011 when it acquired NBCUniversal.
“We’ve called on the FCC to be vigilant in protecting consumers,” Polka added. “Just last month, ACA highlighted the unreasonable minimum-penetration requirements imposed by Comcast-NBCU’s regional sports networks. These requirements prevent Comcast’s competitors from broadly offering an inexpensive ‘broadcast basic/ service tier that viewers increasingly desire. We don’t find it surprising that the programmer most aggressively seeking to prevent ACA members from offering their customers a popular service tier has especially high levels of vertical integration. And Wave is by no means alone in being subject to Comcast’s unreasonable demands. Other, smaller operators suffer as well. This must stop.”