Comcast and NFL in court over channel placement

A New York State Appeals Court decision will send the NFL and Comcast to trial over the cable operator’s decision to put the network on a sports programming tier.

Last May, Comcast won a summary judgment from a New York State Supreme Court judge that it was within its rights to carry the NFL network on a sports tier rather than on the more widely carried basic programming tier.

However, the NFL appealed that ruling and filed for its own summary judgment that it receive better positioning on the Comcast cable TV service. A panel of judges agreed with the NFL.

The panel rejected the NFL’s request for summary judgment, however, which led to the current trial. “The agreements are ambiguous with respect to the scope of the tiering provision and that neither party has established a definitive interpretation as a matter of law,” the judges said.

“Accordingly,“ the court ruled, “the motion court’s holding that the agreements unambiguously permit Comcast to tier the NFL Network is reversed, and summary judgment is denied to both parties.”

The NFL Network service said this was good news to the millions of fans who received its channel before Comcast moved it. Comcast said it would press ahead with the trial “to vindicate our right to carry NFL Network on a sports tier, which is the fairest and best result for our customers.”

No date has been set for the trial.

The NFL is also locked in a dispute with Time Warner Cable over how the NFL Network is carried on Time Warner’s cable TV service. The two organizations recently went before a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee hearing on competition in sports programming.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has expressed concern about cable operators' control over sports programming. According to various industry reports, the FCC put sports-programming conditions on Comcast and Time Warner's purchase of Adelphia Communications cable systems and is currently considering unbundling cable programming to make it available to consumers a la carte.