Tennis Channel returned Cablevision's latest volley in their carriage contretemps.
Tennis CEO Ken Solomon Wednesday night questioned whether Cablevision's play to invoke a contract with the National Cable Television Cooperative to position the network on a sports tier would stay inside the distribution court from a legal perspective. The predominant cable operator in the New York area "recently" became a member of NCTC, which negotiates deals with programmers for distributors. Cablevision evidently joined the group over the last few days.
Cablevision said it wants Tennis to authorize the signal so it can launch the network in both standard- and high-definition formats on Friday, as part of its iO Sports Pak, which houses 15 other networks and retails for $5.95 monthly. That time frame would make Tennis available to Cablevision subscribers in advance of the U.S. Open, the Grand Slam event that begins in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. on Aug. 31. Tennis will provide some 240 hours from the tourney, including 72 live match hours.
Solomon -- noting that Tennis has been negotiating for wider distribution on Cablevision since he began heading the independent in April 2005, including high-level discussions as recently as last weekend -- said the network's lawyers are "looking into the legality" of the deal.
He cited such issues as extending 30-day notice before gaining access to a program network and the unilateral press release Cablevision issued Wednesday afternoon as legal points of contention
For its part, Cablevision said: "We have a valid affiliation agreement with the Tennis Channel through our membership in NCTC and we expect the Tennis Channel to authorize its signal, which is literally a matter of flipping a switch, so our customers can watch its coverage of the U.S. Open."
Solomon also questioned how the NCTC agreement was concluded. "They're talking to us and simultaneously talking to the NCTC? That's bad-faith negotiation," he said, adding that Tennis executives had been in touch with the co-op last week about other matters and Cablevision membership did not come out.
NCTC had issued this statement Wednesday evening. "NCTC would prefer to facilitate a resolution through private discussions with Tennis Channel. Jeff Abbas, NCTC president and CEO, has some concerns with Ken Solomon's statements and he will pursue those discussions directly with Mr. Solomon."
The NCTC gambit follows the dispute that made its way into newspaper ads in the New York area last week. Under the headline reading "Thanks for Nothing Cablevision," the ad showed a tennis racket smashing a cable box, along with the following copy: "You've dropped the ball by preventing your subscribers from seeing Tennis Channel's round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. Open."
However, Long Island's top newspaper Newsday, owned by Cablevision, didn't carry the ad. But Cablevision responded through an ad in Newsday that pointed out to tennis fans that they could still get their fill of the Open via telecasts on CBS and ESPN2.
Tennis also put its position in motion, via trucks sporting ad materials on Long Island, including runs near Cablevision's headquarters in Bethpage, N.Y.
Solomon also emphasized the following message -- that Tennis, which has rights to all four Grand Slam events, virtually every tournament around the globe, an array of lifestyle fare, and offers its programming in high-definition, has succeeded in gaining wider distribution with other carriers since he began helming the network. He said that over the past four and a half years, Tennis has not signed any deals that would provide it with only sports tier placement.
"We would love to make a deal with Cablevision, but we're not interested in one that violates our business model," he said, noting that Tennis proffered "new deal points and incentives" to Cablevision last weekend.
Since joining the service, Solomon said Tennis has not raised its rates --SNL Kagan pegs Tennis' license fee in the 15 cents per month per subscriber range -- because it wants to secure greater distribution. That threshold he says is 40% of a distributor's subscriber base.
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