Blacked Out RSN Altitude Sues Comcast for Antitrust

Denver-area regional sports network Altitude, blacked out by Comcast since August, sued the cable operator charging Comcast with violating antitrust laws and trying to put Altitude out of business.

The suit, filed in United States Court for Denver, seeks treble damages, court costs and lawyer fees.

In a statement, Comcast called the suit “meritless” and said it would “vigorously defend ourselves against Altitude’s claims.”

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Altitude charges that after carrying the network on reasonable terms for 15 years, Comcast demanded that Altitude agree to be carried on a tier that required consumers to pay an extra charge and receive a lower fee per sub from the cable operator.

Comcast controls 92% of the cable market in the Denver DMA and 57% of all pay-TV subscribers, Altitude said.

“Comcast began making demands in negotiations that Comcast knew made no economic sense and would drive Altitude out of business,” the suit charges.

Comcast blacked out the network on Aug. 21 when Altitude “refused to concede to Comcast’s predatory demand,” according to the suit. “Comcast now wants to extinguish competition from Altitude so that Comcast can pocket more of the money it takes from consumers each month for sports programming in the Denver DMA."

“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 said. “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. Since at this point Altitude has rejected all reasonable offers, we have provided our customers with a credit until we reach an agreement. We will vigorously defend ourselves against Altitude’s claims.”

Altitude was also blacked out on AT&T’s DirecTV and Dish. It reached an agreement with AT&T in October.

In its suit, Altitude said it originally reached a 10-year carriage deal with Comcast that called for distribution to 75% of Comcast’s subscribers and a fee that would escalate 5% per year. That deal expired in 2014.

A five year renewal expiring in 2019 called for higher fees.

Beginning last year, Comcast rejected offers from Altitude and began demanding a new deal that called for lower feels and distribution to 15% of Comcast’s subscribers, according to the suit.

In August Altitude offered Comcast a one-year extension at current rates to avoid a blackout. Comcast rejected the offer.

Altitude said that Comcast is making money during the blackout. It recently began giving consumers a partial refund of $1.25 a month to subscribers, but that doesn’t cover how much they are being charged for a network they can not watch.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.