I Want My Tennis Channel!

Tennis Channel, the station that brings coverage of all the four majors in the sport plus 70 tournaments and Davis Cup, has been blacked out to millions in the New York-area. This occurred at the start of the second week of the U.S. Open when the network cut its access to two of the largest cable networks in the country, Cablevision and Verizon Fios. As part of the National Cable Televison Cooperative (NCTC), Cablevision and Verizon both aired Tennis Channel until September 4 of last year when Tennis Channel pulled its feed off of the two cable giants, “demanding significantly higher fees,” said Cablevision in a statement.

Tennis Channel, at the time, countered with its own version of the split, saying in a statement, “By not agreeing to the new NCTC guidelines, as many other NCTC members have done, Cablevision has chosen to drop Tennis Channel and no longer offer it to its subscribers.” Both Verizon and Cablevision are locked in a dispute with the Tennis Channel over fee increases and the issue of placing the network on basic rather than expanded cable packages.

Tennis Channel public relations director, Eric Abner, said that since the station has grown from 3 million subscribers to 30 million, since Tennis Channel made its debut in 2003, they didn’t want to be part of sports tier programming anymore. Instead, Tennis Channel is only signing deals with cable providers like Dish, Direct TV, Cox, Time Warner and other big networks to be a part of their digital basic level. Viewer can only buy sports tier programming by paying an extra monthly fee. Which is mostly only done by young male viewers while Abner claims that 50 per cent of Tennis Channel viewers are female, making the channel a more desirable station. Abner also pointed out that unlike the Golf Channel, which is owned by cable giant, Comcast, and has a reported 80 million subscribers, the Tennis Channel owns coverage to all four majors of the sport.

Tennis has always been a more difficult sport to cover because it is hard to slot into conventional programming. A match in a major, can run as long as 5 1/2 hours, derailing scheduled programming. But Abner says that tennis programming is as valuable to advertisers as golf.

Many tennis viewers in the New York City region have been unable to switch providers to a Tennis Channel-friendly cable network because their buildings are locked into either Cablevision or Verizon. Abner says a deal with Verizon could be imminent, maybe even before the Australian Open starts play next Monday, January 16th. But calls to Verizon led to no similar disclosure from the cable provider.

Cablevision tennis fans should definitely not hold their breath for the return of Tennis Channel to its airwaves. A feud between the network and station goes back to 2009 when Cablevision, four days before the Tennis Channel was to broadcast its first U.S. Open, joined the NCTC just to receive favorable subscription rights. Abner says Tennis Channel told Cablevision back then that the station had gotten too big and added much more programming and subscribers to continue the terms of the the old NCTC deal when it expired, as it did on Sept. 4, 2011, and it would not continue to allow cable providers to carry it on its sports tier package. But Cablevision did not broker a new deal with Tennis Channel. Abner says the network bilked its 100,000 viewers who watched Tennis Channel on its sports tier package by charging them $72 a year extra when Tennis Channel was basically getting paid only $2 for every additional Cablevision viewer.

Tennis Channel recently won a lawsuit against cable giant, Comcast, to receive access to its basic programming when courts ruled that since Comcast owns the Golf Channel and has it on its expanded coverage, it would have to provide the same access to the Tennis Channel. Abner points out that one of the big criticisms of the Tennis Channel, that it only shows the weekend matches of the smaller tournaments it broadcasts, could be eliminated if cable providers paid a fair rate to Tennis Channel for its broadcasting.

“We could be televising the Los Angeles and Newport tournaments and many others,” said Abner, “from the first match on Monday.”

Abner says Tennis Channel is “very sympathetic and apologetic. The timing was horrible,” referring to the blackout starting at the beginning of the second week of the U.S. Open. Kevin Laverty, a spokesman for Verizon said at the time, “Tennis Channel is using its customers as a bargaining chip.”

As of now, Cablevision and Verizon cable television-holders are going to have to rely on ESPN’s and the internet’s coverage of the upcoming Australian Open. Many are locked into building or television-phone-internet package deals that makes it either impossible or difficult to switch providers. Tennis Channel’s position is that it doesn’t want to be seen only on niche programming anymore. It wants higher licensing fees and broader distribution so they can receive higher advertising rates.

The bottom line is that tennis fans could care less what the crux of the dispute between the cable companies and the Tennis Channel is; they just want to watch tennis. But complaints and appeals from tennis fans to the cable providers and the network have seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

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  • Gans · January 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Dan, great article. Fifty % of TC viewers are women? Interesting.

    Why not watch online? Sometimes you get better coverage online than TV. For instance, some days US open coverage could be downright frustrating because they would show the most uninteresting Serena (or Venus as an example) match rather than say an exciting match between Federer vs. Monfils for example.

    On so many occasions I would return from work to watch the 4th or 5th set of say DelPotro vs. Gasquet. ESPN and TC would screw up big time by switching to a completely different and uninteresting ladies match like Wozniaki vs. LadiesOVA.  When that happens, I simply connect my computer to TV through HDMI cable and watch the best match on TV w/o any commercial interruption.

    You don’t even need to ditch the cable to go online! The only sport (and almost the only program) I watch on TV is Tennis. If I were you, Dan it’s a no-brainer. I would have ditched the cable on the same day or moved to a different place!

  • Dan Markowitz · January 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Interesting that you mention the online option, Gans. I just got back from my local Apple store and picked up an HDMI cable and I intend to check out how clear the reception is from my IPhone to the telly. I can’t use my computer because it isn’t close to my telly.

    This year, I have to watch every single Djokovic match for Tennis.com and write an article on each one. I like to do some sit ups or maybe lie on my couch while watching a tennis match. Watching on the internet means I have to sit upright in my chair.

    So I am going to check this option out and see how clear the reception is. What internet site do you use to watch tennis?

    And you do realize that you’re missing all those scintillating Bag Checks without watching TC.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 12, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Very interesting and well stated read Dan. I almost don’t know who to fault, both sides have their points. Gans sure seems to have turned a negative into a positive though,

  • Dan Markowitz · January 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Yes, but according to Abner at TC, TC owns all the digital rights to the French Open, so unless you a TC subscriber, you won’t be able to see the matches from Roland Garros.

    Who’s at fault? Abner says eight of the ten biggest cable providers have struck individual deals with TC, Cablevision and Verizon are the only two that have not.

    Tennis Channel doesn’t want to be limited to the sports tier programming, but Verizon and CV want to be able to sell these extra programming tiers and by keeping TC on them, I guess they have a better chance of doing so. TC wants to be on the broader basic programming package so they can pump their advertising rates up. Since tennis only gets a lot of attention during the four majors, it’s hard for deals to get done until more eyes and potential subscribers focus in on the sport.

  • Steve · January 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Gans, the US Open had an amazing stream setup with diff. courts to choose from for free. Seems like the other majors charge. I’m guessing you pay for Wimbledon?

  • Mitch · January 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    If you have the right ISP, you can stream high quality excellent coverage of the majors, and later stage matches of the masters, 500s and some of the American 250 events for free from ESPN3 or watchespn.com or whatever they call it these days. I get it with RCN, but I think it also comes with FIOS, Time Warner and a few others.

    Alternatively, you can buy access to the non-majors from tennistv.com. I’ll sometimes watch streams for other events from lshunter.tv, though they’re frequently low quality and sometimes in foreign languages.

  • The Nod · March 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Hey when I want to follow tennis all I pay attention to is Ken Thomas and http://www.RadioTennis.com.

    The Tennis Channel is weak

  • Anne-Marie · May 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    The only cable provider in this area is Cablevision. They have not only dropped the Tennis Channel but are unwilling to carry ESPN3. All the other sports, including shuffleboard get more coverage!

    This is discrimination and an unfair monopoly.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Anne-Marie, a LOT of people are upset about Cablevision not including The Tennis Channel. But there’s nothing we can do except hope they work it out soon. Thanks for commenting and welcome to the site.

  • Drew · May 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I, too, am extremely frustrated over this issue. Yes, it’s a “first world problem,” but I REALLY MISS watching tennis. I also live in the NYC metro area, and we get NO tennis coverage. I am stuck with cablevision. No TC, no ESPN3, and I’m pretty sure tennis channel has pretty much bought out 90% of the tourney.

    On the ESPN website today, during the French Open play, it said that tennis was live on ESPN2. Not on my TV. I got Sportscenter on BOTH CHANNELS…the SAME EXACT EPISODE, running simultaneously. Knowing there is great tennis on and I’m missing it is KILLING ME.
    I have found some live feeds, but they are all sketchy, and lead to me getting random pop-ups asking me to install Romanian programs.

    Can’t we all just get along, and watch some tennis? The only decent TV coverage I can look forward to will be the 2 final matches and maybe the 4 semis, if I’m lucky. That will be on NBC, I believe, which has rights to the big matches.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Drew where you at? I’m in the same boat, no TTC thanks to Cablevision. It’s quite frustrating to miss these matches as a tennis lover. Let’s hope they work it out. So many people are ticked off about this. Welcome to the site Drew.

  • Roz Brown · May 30, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Great article breaking it all down. Love playing tennis and watching the tournys, but without TC and ESPN3 (Fios is not available yet) I’m at the mercy of ESPN2, who only play the Roland Garros matches at 5:00 am EST until 10 am. Rafa played today, but I could only record 30 minutes of the match because the broadcast was turned off. Why can’t they show the recorded matches during prime time? When the NCAA Basketball playoffs were on, those games were on every single night! Alas, our beloved sport is the fuzzy, yellow-headed stepchild in sports broadcasting. Maybe one day someone will do the right thing and return the Tennis Channel to Cablevision subscribers.

  • Peggy · July 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    All Cablevision has to do is promise TC a place right next to the Golf Channel and it would be back on the air in no time. TC’s only restriction is that they don’t want to be available on a sports package only. Cablevision will not do it.



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