Comcast-Altitude Pissing Match: Glimmer of Hope More Than a Month Away

Comcast subscribers weren't able to see Nikola Jokic's post-game interview following the Denver Nuggets' victory on April 24.
Comcast subscribers weren't able to see Nikola Jokic's post-game interview following the Denver Nuggets' victory on April 24. YouTube
On April 24, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Golden State Warriors 126-121 in a nationally broadcast playoffs game, guaranteeing at least what ESPN commentator and former Duke standout Jay Williams recently referred to as a "gentleman's sweep." They're still alive, but down in the seven-game series by a 1-3 margin.

But after the win, subscribers to Comcast — the way in which most Denver-area television viewers receive their content, despite the popularity of streaming — couldn't switch over to Altitude, the cable-TV home of the Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, to watch star Nikola Jokic and other members of the team talk about the victory.

That's because Altitude, owned by bajillionaire Stan Kroenke, whose Kroenke Sports & Entertainment empire also includes the Colorado Mammoth and the Colorado Rapids (the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams are his, too), isn't available to Comcast customers — and that's been the case since the summer of 2019.

In a point underscored by commentators on 104.3 The Fan last week, the conflict between Comcast and Altitude has actually dragged on longer than the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon tied to mediation efforts to which the parties agreed late last year, the next opportunity for a breakthrough is more than a month away — a hearing set for early June. By then, the Nuggets playoff bid will almost certainly be over. And the Avs, also broadcast on Altitude, will have to make an extremely deep post-season run to still be active at that point.

In the meantime, Nuggets and Avs boosters continue to be the biggest losers of all.

Westword's September 9, 2019, post headlined "High-Stakes Pissing Match That Could Keep Nuggets, Avs Off Your TV" outlined the basics of the beef. On August 29 of that year, after negotiations over pay rates hit an impasse, the satellite service DISH switched off Altitude, with DIRECTV and Comcast following suit on August 31. In late October, Altitude reached a deal with DIRECTV, but pacts with the other two carriers remained elusive — and a few weeks later, the channel filed a class-action lawsuit against Comcast in U.S. District Court. Among the assertions in the complaint: "Comcast now wants to extinguish competition from Altitude so that Comcast can pocket more of the money it takes from consumers each month for sports programming in the Denver DMA [Designated Market Area]."

Comcast's response: "This is a meritless lawsuit in an intensely competitive market where Comcast has no competitive regional sports network and Altitude has multiple distribution alternatives. Instead of pursuing baseless litigation, Altitude should engage in responsible commercial negotiations that would allow Comcast to distribute its programming to those customers who want it without driving up costs for customers who do not. Since at this point Altitude has rejected all reasonable offers, we have provided our customers with a credit until we reach an agreement. We will vigorously defend ourselves against Altitude’s claims."

This last line has proven to be true. The combatants' various court maneuvers dragged on for more than two years before, in December 2021, the parties agreed to mediation to be overseen by Judge William J. Martinez. But a subsequent session in late February failed to break the impasse, and representatives from the companies haven't met since then.

That's scheduled to change. When asked for a status update, Comcast spokesperson Leslie Oliver noted that "a follow-up mediation date is set for June 2."

Adds Altitude representative Tom Philand: "It is public record that Altitude and Comcast are currently engaged in mediation. While the mediation is ongoing, the parties have agreed not to make any comments related to the mediation. However, Altitude recognizes the difficulty this poses to our fans. We remain committed to our community and are intent on getting back on Comcast."

The cessation of negative public comments extends to online platforms. Comcast's "facts" page about its conflict with Altitude, launched in 2019, is currently down, as are twin Altitude sites that were accessible at the DontBlockMyNuggets and DontBlockMy Avs addresses.

It's unclear whether these moves constitute a positive sign or simply a reluctance to anger the judge. But since the NBA playoffs are only slated to run through June 19, the Nuggets would have to make the finals to still be playing after the aforementioned mediation session, and they're currently teetering on the brink of elimination; a Golden State win during the next contest, which will take place in the Bay Area on April 27, and Jokic and company are toast. As for the Stanley Cup playoffs, they're expected to end no later than June 30, and the Avs are legitimate contenders for the big prize — but they've underperformed in the post-season over the past couple of years.

As a result, Denver-area sports lovers with Comcast could be left waiting until next season to see their favorite teams on Altitude. Again.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts