CSNNW responds to Blazers' FCC filing

Comcast SportsNet Northwest has responded to a comment the Portland Trail Blazers recently filed with the Federal Communications Commission, The Columbian has learned.

PDF link to Comcast’s entire 327-page FCC filing.

Condensed comments released by CSNNW:

The criticism leveled by the Portland Trail Blazers (“Trail Blazers”) that Comcast has limited consumers’ access to Trail Blazers games is misplaced and inaccurate.

Comcast SportsNet-Northwest (“CSN-NW”) launched in the fall of 2007. In the season before CSN-NW launched, 21 Trail Blazers games were not televised anywhere on any outlet. Upon launch, CSN-NW significantly increased the amount of Trail Blazers-related content, including live games, available to local fans. Now, between the Trail Blazers’ over-the-air partner (which telecast 15 Trail Blazers games during the 2009-10 NBA season), the package of games made available on CSN-NW, and games carried on nationally distributed networks (which telecast seven Trail Blazers games during the 2009-10 NBA season), all of the team’s regular season games are televised. In addition, prior to the advent of CSN-NW, only about 10 Trail Blazers games were available in HD. Now, all 60 games shown on CSN-NW are available in HD.

During the 2009-10 season, in addition to 60 Trail Blazers games that CSN-NW telecast, CSN also telecast other valuable programming of local interest such as Trail Blazers pre- and post-game shows and game replays for every game telecast, summer-league games, live games of the Vancouver Canucks, and coverage of the Oregon Ducks and other college sports.

CSN-NW has every business incentive to seek more, not less, distribution for its network. The network’s revenues derive primarily from per-subscriber affiliate fees and advertising revenue, both of which grow with increased distribution. CSN-NW has invested substantial capital and assumed the risk associated with launching a new television network, and the path to recovering its investment lies in maximizing distribution at fair terms.

To that end, since its launch, CSN-NW (with its full slate of Trail Blazers programming) has been, and continues to be, made available to every MVPD serving the Trail Blazers’ market, including all of Comcast Cable’s direct competitors. CSN-NW has worked diligently to secure distribution of CSN-NW and its Trail Blazers games to every local cable, satellite, and telco provider in its footprint, including running costly marketing campaigns to raise consumer awareness of CSN-NW. Beyond Comcast Cable, 11 other providers, including direct competitors of Comcast Cable, currently carry CSN-NW – the best proof that the network is fairly priced and being made available on fair and reasonable terms.

CSN-NW is carried by the following cable and telco companies: Ashland TV, Beaver Creek Telephone, BendBroadband, Canby Telcom, Comcast Cable, Country Cablevision, Frontier Communications, MINET Fiber, Monroe Telephone, Oregon Cable Group, Scio Cablevision, and Wave Broadband.

The distributors who are not carrying CSN-NW and the Trail Blazers games, including Charter, Dish Network, and DirecTV, have made the decision not to carry the network notwithstanding the fact that it is available to them on the same terms agreed to by other distributors. CSN-NW cannot force these distributors to carry the network. The main reasons proffered by these distributors for their lack of interest are the cost of the network; the breadth of the network’s geographic footprint; sufficient availability of other sports programming of local interest via other means, including the Blazers’ over-the-air telecasts on KGW and telecasts of other local sports programming, including Seattle Mariners games, on FSN Northwest; and, in the case of Charter, the lack of bandwidth to accommodate another analog channel.

The Trail Blazers ask that the Commission require Comcast to “authorize distribution of Trail Blazers games” by competing MVPDs. In fact, this request mischaracterizes the issue – Comcast already licenses CSN-NW and its Trail Blazers games for distribution by competing MVPDs and remains ready and willing, as it has been since CSN-NW’s launch, to license CSN-NW and its Trail Blazers games to DirecTV, Dish Network, and Charter. But, as explained above, each of these distributors has chosen not to carry the network, even though they are being offered the same price that others in the market are willing to pay.

Moreover, there are already remedies available to distributors that believe that they are being treated unfairly (via a program access claim with the FCC) or that the price and terms being offered do not reflect the fair market value of CSN-NW’s programming (via baseball-style arbitration under the Adelphia Order). Because none of these distributors has elected to avail itself of these remedies, it would appear that they simply are not interested in paying fair market value for carriage of the network.

CSN-NW shares the frustration of the Trail Blazers and local fans who cannot follow all of the team’s game on TV because certain MVPDs have elected not to carry the network. This, however, has nothing to do with the transaction pending before the Commission.

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