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Altitude goes dark in Denver



Well, they did it. The cable monopolies have pulled rank and made Altitude TV – your local channel that broadcasts the vast majority of Avalanche, Nuggets, Rapids, DU hockey, DU sports, other mountain sports teams’ games – turn into a frozen test pattern of sorts.

Above is the programming from Altitude’s channel when I clicked on it this morning, as a Comcast subscriber.

For more on what this is all about, read here. Altitude’s contract with Comcast, DirecTV and DISH has expired, and the parties are nowhere near a new carriage agreement. Both sides, predictably, are pointing the finger of blame at each other.

Altitude is still on several other cable providers out there, with names such as Spectrum, Charter, Century Link and some smaller operators. The problem is, none of them are too readily available in the Denver area. Take me, as a resident of Thornton, for example: I have the choice of three cable companies – Comcast, DirecTV and DISH. That’s it.

Altitude is blacked out on all three right now. For Comcast and DirecTV, the blackout started at midnight last night. It’s been longer than that at DISH.

Altitude does potentially have other options, but they all have their own pitfalls and it would probably take too long to do deals in time to distribute Avs/Nuggets games on them, but…it’s possible – possible – Altitude could do deals with an Amazon or a YouTube or a Twitter or another fast-growing “platform.” Amazon, for example, just did a deal with the New York Yankees and was part of a group that bought their YES Network from Disney for $3.47 billion. Companies such as Amazon, YouTube and Twitter are all starting to dip their toes into sports programming. You can stream most NFL games this season for $50 a month on YouTube TV, for example.

But that’s the NFL. The Yankees, too, are a different animal than your typical sports franchise. Deals between a team like the Avs and a place like Amazon or Twitter might be a bit far-fetched at the moment. What would be preferable for the Avs and most every other pro sports team out there is to remain on big, widely distributed cable networks like Comcast, DirecTV and DISH.

The “problem” here, as we discussed some in the above-linked story, is that Altitude is its own entity. Most pro sports teams have their broadcasts under the umbrella of one of these cable providers themselves. Many teams are under the Comcast/NBC umbrella of regional sports networks. Same with AT&T Sportsnet. The Colorado Rockies, for instance, are part of the AT&T Sportsnet umbrella that includes other regions of the country.

So, when it’s time for these teams’ broadcasting rights to be negotiated, they are essentially just negotiating with a parent company. It’s all under the same umbrella. But not with Altitude. Stan Kroenke owns Altitude, the Kroenke family owns the Avs and Nuggets and they broadcast their games on their own channel – with the intent of keeping all of the advertising money they can earn, instead of sharing it with another parent company.

But Kroenke doesn’t own a cable company itself, and so he has to come to an agreement with them to be able to put Altitude on the air. Hence, where we’re at now. The cable companies don’t want sports teams to own their own channels. They want everything under one nice big corporate umbrella. This is why they are playing such hardball with Altitude.

Make no mistake, Altitude is very upset over this.

I talked with Ken Miller, executive vice president and general manager of Altitude, this morning and here was his statement on the matter:

“Right now, we just aren’t sure what (the cable companies’)  strategy is. (With Comcast and DirecTV) they both own sports networks. They both know, between paying rights fees and game production costs, they are expensive businesses to run. They know what they have offered us, if offered to their own networks, would put them out of business. So they know it’s not a “fair” offer. “Fair” does not bankrupt the other company.

“Look at your DirecTV or Comcast bill. They are charging eight bucks a month for “Regional Sports Networks” – four bucks for AT&T Sports and four bucks for Altitude. Now they want to move us to a tier and charge more, but offer 50% less to us and 60% less viewers. Are they offering this to their own networks or to each other’s? Of course not. It won’t work for theirs.”

This is what happens when big companies band together, folks. Some might call it “collusion.” I’m not using that word, but I know others out there are. The cable companies are putting the squeeze on the little guy this time, which of course is full of irony, because Stan Kroenke is anything but a “little guy” in the sports world or any other world.

The cable companies are not doing all this to protect your wallet, by the way. They are not Robin Hood here. Never have been, never will be. Cable companies are 100% in business to get as much money as they can out of their subscribers, plain and simple. That goes double right now, in the age of streaming/cutting the cord. Sports programming is one of their last big leverage points they have in keeping customers from leaving in droves.

So why are they taking the chance of thousands of you angry Avs/Nuggets/Rapids fans canceling with them right now over this issue?

Well, because, they can. Where else are you gonna go to watch the games? Are you going to move to Wyoming to watch them on Spectrum? Are you gonna potentially make yourself a criminal to illegally stream them on Reddit?

There just aren’t enough of you for them to worry about this, in a purely cold, calculating business sense. Many more people watch the Nat Geo channel than watch Altitude for Avs/Nuggets games. That’s not an insult, just a fact.

The endgame here, for the cable companies, may be to put Altitude out of business. Or, bring Kroenke to heel and sell broadcast rights to a Comcast/NBC regional or AT&T so they don’t have to pay those pesky revenue cuts back to Altitude anymore.  If they don’t own a piece of the pie with the broadcasts themselves, like Comcast does with their own regional sports networks, then to hell with them.

Rather than looking out for the customers’ wallets, the cable companies are mad that they can’t charge even more money for you to watch Avs/Nuggets right now. They want to move Altitude to a pricier sports tier – at least that’s what Altitude is saying – so they can get more money from local sports fan.

Altitude, I’m told, came down on the progressively increased percentage they were originally seeking on a new multi-year deal to just straight out the same they’re currently getting. But I’m told that DirecTV, for example, wants a 50% decrease in what they last paid Altitude. I’m also told that, of the four bucks you pay Comcast or DirecTV as part of your $8 regional sports fee, a much bigger percentage of that goes into their own pockets than goes back to Altitude. I’ve reached out to both cable companies on this, but haven’t gotten a response.

Miller says “we still plan to program our network the same way we always have.” But, obviously, if this doesn’t get solved, and rather soon I would have to think, the possibility of widespread staff cutbacks and/or dissolution of the network could be more than possible.

I’ll keep you posted as the Cable Wars Turn.

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