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Comcast Announces Family Tier

Following Time Warner’s lead in trying to placate cable-industry regulators, Comcast unveiled its lineup for a family-friendly tier of programming it says it will launch in early 2006.

The 16-network Comcast Family Tier contains a few more high-profile networks than Time Warner’s family-tier lineup, announced last week. Comcast’s tier, for example, will include Nickelodeon and Nick Too, which is absent from Time Warner’s tier. The other networks unique to Comcast: C-SPAN; National Geographic Channel; religious broadcast network TBN; and PBS KIDS’ Sprout, a VOD and digital-channel preschool package owned by Comcast, PBS, the Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment.

Comcast’s family tier, comprised of networks the company deems G-rated, will include: Disney Channel, Toon Disney, PBS KIDS Sprout, Discovery Kids, Science Channel, Nickelodeon/Nick Too, Nickelodeon GAS (Games and Sports), TBN (Trinity Broadcasting), HGTV, Food Network, DIY, CNN Headline News, The Weather Channel, National Geographic Channel, C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2.

In announcing family-friendly tiers, Comcast and other cable providers are hoping to placate cable critics, including the Parents Television Council, and stave off the threat of mandated a la carte programming, under which viewers, rather than programmers or cable operators, customize cable-channel lineups, cherry-picking the networks to which they would like to subscribe.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow last week told the Senate Commerce Committee during an indecency hearing that operators representing more than 50% of U.S. subscribers would announce family-friendly tiers in the coming weeks.

“G-rated” networks, Comcast said, have “limited ‘live’ entertainment programming” and “encompass a broad range of general entertainment and family programming.” The company also says the channels “are widely distributed across Comcast cable systems” and “meet existing contractual programming agreements.”

Combined with the 20-25 channels offered on Comcast’s basic cable tier, the cable company’s family programming package will feature some 40 networks. The family tier programming package will cost an average of $31.20 per month, although pricing, as well as channel lineup, will vary by market. That’s based on the $12 national average price of Comcast’s basic tier, $14.95 for the 16 family tier networks and $4.25 for a digital set-top box. The tier also requires customers to have a set-top box with an on-screen interactive program guide.

Comcast will roll out the tier to its digital subscribers nationwide, about 99% of its customers. The networks on the family tier will continue to be available through other packages.

The Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, made up of religious broadcasters and programmers, applauded the move. “Comcast’s introduction of a ‘family tier’ of G-rated programming is a welcome and important step in the right direction,” said spokesman Colby May, adding, “Comcast's family tier provides scope and balance by including children's programming, news, faith and values channels like TBN, Spanish-language offerings, and educational programming.”—John Eggerton contributed to this report