D.C. Urges Comcast to Keep Starz Channels

The D.C. City Council has joined Baltimore in urging Comcast not to drop Starz and related channels from its system on Dec. 10 as planned.

The D.C. Council has passed a resolution similar to one passed by Baltimore--it even cited Baltimore's resolution--that said Comcast has an obligation to maximize diversity on its cable systems and urged it to do so.

But while Baltimore stopped at issuing a general sense of the council that Comcast needed to comply with its franchise requirement on diversity, D.C. went further.

It pointed out that Starz, Starz Edge, Starz in Black, Starz Comedy, Starz Cinema, and Starz Kids and Family, would be removed from Comcast packages, and said "it is the sense of the Council that Comcast should maintain Starz channels and associated on demand content in its packages until the contract issues are resolved."

Citing the need to manage programming costs, Comcast told viewers it would be replacing Starz and Starz On Demand in its cable packages with EPIX channels and told viewers that still wanted Starz they would need to buy it a la carte for $12 per month, though that might only last until the end of the month.

Comcast's contract to carry Starz programming ends Dec. 31 and it has yet to reach a carriage deal beyond that date.

Comcast is currently being sued by Byron Allen over what he alleges is discrimination in non-carriage of his networks. The Baltimore City Council cited Allen in its resolution, saying in one of its "whereas" clauses: "According to recent press reports, Comcast is in active disputes with 22 programming channels that offer content particularly viewed by diverse audiences, including 23 of Byron Allen’s collection of channels, Starz, and BeIN Sports."

Comcast has also been the target of multiple diversity complaints from BeIN.

Comcast argues that it has a strong program diversity record and that there were justifiable business reasons for why it did not carry the particular channels at issue in those cases.

“We are continuing to negotiate to try to reach a deal with Starz that makes sense for us and our customers," said Comcast in a statement. "Over the last decade, the video marketplace has evolved dramatically, with more and more streaming and direct-to-consumer offerings. Consistent with this trend, Starz makes its content available a-la-carte on Amazon Prime and Roku and direct to consumers through the Starz app. All we are asking for is the same treatment."

"No matter the outcome of the ongoing discussions, no Comcast customer will lose access to Starz since it is available on Amazon Prime, including through Comcast’s X1 platform (though not exclusively), and many other online outlets. At the end of the day, this is a routine commercial negotiation that raises no conceivable antitrust concerns.”

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.