Tennis Channel has announced a new multiyear affiliation pact with the National Cable Television Cooperative for expanded penetration of the dedicated racquet sport service.
Under the pact, which expires on Dec. 31, 2016, Tennis Channel has secured a master deal with NCTC, the Lenexa, Kan.-headquartered outfit that negotiates programming contracts and purchases hardware for nearly 1,000 member companies, for digital-basic positioning. Individual NCTC members can now elect to accept or pass on the new affiliate agreement.
Tennis' current nine-year deal with NCTC, which expires on Sept. 3, provides for carriage solely on sports tiers.
An NCTC spokesman said the coop notified members of its new Tennis Channel agreement last week. Since then, there have been some initial indications that some members may not opt to carry the network under the new deal, but no formal decisions.
"We expect others will take advantage of the new commitment," added the spokesman.
A Tennis Channel spokesman said it was too early to gauge the reaction from NCTC members to the new affiliate pact. He said executives had asked NCTC to "give the network a feel by early next week about who's in, who's not."
Tennis senior vice president of distribution Patrick Wilson was pleased with the new agreement. "The NCTC plays an important role in representing independent cable operators, and we're excited that the businesses and viewers they serve will continue to have the opportunity to watch Tennis Channel," said Wilson in a statement.
"We're happy to renew our relationship with Tennis Channel, and to continue to make the network available to our members," noted Frank Hughes, senior vice president, programming, NCTC. "The channel has matured tremendously in recent years to truly become the television home for tennis."
When it signed its original NCTC pact, Tennis did not sport the comprehensive lineup it does today: The network didn't hold the rights to any of the sport's four major "Grand Slam" events or U.S. Davis Cup matches, present a year-round schedule with the top-100 tournaments in the sport, or feature high-definition programming.
The extant NCTC deal concludes at midnight on Sept. 4, in the middle of Tennis' coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships from the National Tennis Center in Queens. The network will provide some 300 hours from Flushing Meadow, including 75 hours of live match coverage. For those members who do not renew the NCTC deal, they will miss the network's exclusive live presentation in primetime on Sept. 4 and the balance of its coverage during the tourney's second week.
It was unclear at press time, whether Cablevision, which engaged in high-profile contract volleying before Tennis' inaugural U.S. Open presentation with the 2009 event, will commit to the new NCTC contract.
"We have an agreement with the Tennis Channel that runs into September and well into the U.S. Open, and we are hopeful that there will either be a new agreement or an extended one," said Cablevision in a statement. "Under any scenario, Cablevision customers will see every important U.S. Open match on ESPN 2, CBS and through the considerable online offerings of the USTA, including the ability to watch multiple matches simultaneously."
Earlier this month, the New York DMA's predominant cable operator mailed postcards to its subscribers indicating that it has been working to extend its agreement with its the network, but "it is possible that Tennis Channel may no longer be available after Sept. 3."
Tennis, which for years had been negotiating for better positioning with Cablevision, became part of its sports tier, after the MSO became an NCTC member on Aug. 26, 2009, just days before the Open opened that year.
The network said it had legal issues with Cablevision's unilaterally putting out a press release about its wont to launch the service and that it wasn't given a 30-day notification period to make its signal available. As such, the network elected not to authorize its signal and none of its 240 hours of coverage from its inaugural presentation of the U.S. Open was available to Cablevision subscribers.
Tennis finally granted the signal authorization on Sept. 24, 10 days after Juan Martin del Potro defeated Roger Federer to end that year's tournament by capturing the men's singles title.
Since then, Tennis has been available as part of the MSO's iO Sports and Entertainment Pack on channel 399 and HD channel 795. That package, comprising 23 networks some in both standard- and high-definition formats, retails for $6.95 per month.
Tennis, meanwhile, is also awaiting resolution in its program-carriage complaint against Comcast at the Federal Communications Commission's Enforcement Bureau.
In July, the bureau has recommended to Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel that Tennis has made the case that Comcast had discriminated on the basis of affiliation. Comcast should be hit with the maximum fine allowed, which is $375,000, the bureau also said.
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