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Comcast Claims NFL Network Was Overpriced, Legitimately Place on Sports Tier

Larry Gerbrandt, a cable analyst with Media Valuation Partners, testified on behalf of Comcast Friday that the NFL Network was overpriced and Comcast had a legitimate business reason to place it on the sports tier.

He said during what was billed as the last day in the FCC hearing on the NFL's program carriage complaint against Comcast that five factors went into that conclusion. The network had limited unique programming, limited exclusive programming, limited live programming, highly seasonal programming, and it didn't target an underserved demo.

An attorney for the NFL during cross examination pointed to the fact that the NFL Network was higher rated than Comcast's Versus or Golf Channel Network even in the NFL's off season.

At issue in the hearing is the NFL's contention that Comcast favored those two channels in which it has a financial interest, over the NFL Network, by placing the latter on a sports tier that costs extra.

Making the argument that Versus and Golf Channel weren't brimming over with original programming, the NFL attorney pointed out that about 15% of their programming was infomercials compared to about 5% original programming.

Gerbrandt repeatedly said that the ratings of a channel were not a determining factor in the license fee paid for that channel, though he did concede distributors prefer channels with higher ratings than lower ones.

Comcast argues that it was the price of the NFL Network, not its competition with Versus or Golf Channel, that was behind its decision to move NFL to a sports tier.

The back and forth over numbers continued through the morning with Gerbrandt often taking a while to respond. Judge Richard Sippel appeared to become impatient, likening it to a math test, and asked for the NFL to move on, saying there had been a lot of "wheel spinning."

Comcast still has three more witnesses scheduled including Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, in a trial the judge points out has to wrap up Friday. That is because the next program carriage complaint hearing, Wealth TV vs. Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Brighthouse, is scheduled to begin in the same courtroom Monday.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.