CTN’s Plummer: Comcast Demanded Equity

An African-American cable-network executive told a House subcommittee Wednesday that Comcast Corp. allegedly demanded an ownership stake in Christian Television Network as a condition of obtaining distribution from the country largest cable company.

“I was approached by Comcast. We discussed carriage. As we went through the process, what I learned was that if I was willing to give ownership and equity in our network, then there would be carriage granted,” said the Rev. Glenn Plummer, CTN’s chairman and CEO.

Plummer, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, said he wanted Comcast cable carriage, not a cash infusion that would have diluted the network’s 100%-African-American ownership.

“Our network is 100% African-American-owned. We chose not to do that,” Plummer told the House panel. “They hand-walked us to [The] Goldman Sachs [Group Inc.]. We just need access. It was not granted.”

Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick denied Plummer’s allegations. “He tried to negotiate a carriage deal with us,” he said. “We never asked for equity. He didn’t have a viable content idea.”

Under federal law and Federal Communications Commission rules, cable operators are barred from demanding ownership stakes in cable networks in exchange for carriage.

In 1997, Classic Sports Network filed a complaint at the FCC against Cablevision Systems Corp., alleging violation of the equity-carriage rule. But the two parties eventually settled and the complaint was dismissed with prejudice.

An FCC source said that in the absence of a complaint, the equity-carriage rule is difficult to enforce because some fledgling cable networks actually seek cable MSO investors and because MSOs can express interest in ownership in ways that do not necessarily conflict with the law.

Plummer -- who owns two class-A TV stations in Detroit and New Orleans -- launched CTN in 1982 and has just 3 million subscribers.

“We have a pretty compelling proprietary appeal for how to bring a larger number of African Americans and Christians,” he told reporters after the hearing.

Plummer, who said he was unfamiliar with the FCC rule, declined to provide additional details. He would not disclose the names of Comcast officials who made the demand, when the talks were held, or whether Comcast’s offer was made orally or in writing.

“You give me a little while and let me talk back to those folks and I’ll let you know all the detail you need to know,” Plummer told reporters. “The truth of the matter is that we are still talking.”

Plummer told the House panel that he was reluctant to go public with his story.

“I was reticent to share my personal story for fear of retribution, but I will,” he said.

He discussed the Comcast talks during a hearing on whether cable companies should provide consumers with a la carte programming choices.