Comcast-Altitude Lawsuit Deal Is No Win for Viewers

Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray at a post-victory press conference in April 2019, a few months before Altitude's conflict with Comcast went public.
Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray at a post-victory press conference in April 2019, a few months before Altitude's conflict with Comcast went public. YouTube file photo
During the prime-time news dump on Friday, March 17, Comcast and Altitude Sports & Entertainment jointly announced the resolution of a lawsuit filed in late 2019. While the details of the settlement are being kept under wraps, both parties confirm that for most subscribers, the deal won't lead to Comcast returning Altitude to its lineup — the reason the complaint was pressed in the first place.

That means Comcast, the nation's largest and most powerful cable service, and Altitude, owned by billionaire Stan Kroenke, whose portfolio also includes the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, have achieved absolutely nothing after more than three years of grappling in court. And once again, the fans are the losers.

The first Westword post on this subject, published in September 2019, noted that the high-stakes pissing match over broadcasting fees initially involved multiple services: DISH had switched off Altitude at midnight on August 29 that year, while DIRECTV and Comcast did so on August 31. A couple of months later, the network reached an agreement with DIRECTV, but a pact with DISH and Comcast remained elusive.

Then, in November 2019, Altitude sued Comcast, accusing it of using its monopoly power to drive the network out of business. The complaint maintained that "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."

In the years since, Comcast has essentially repeated this argument, maintaining that customers who have zero interest in Altitude's fare shouldn't have to pay for it.

Pause for riotous laughter.
click to enlarge
Altitude's Matt Hutchings has been at the forefront of the confrontation with Comcast.
Altitude Sports & Entertainment
Because of the Altitude-Comcast dustup, Nuggets and Avalanche loyalists who chose not to switch to DIRECTV or FuboTV, a broadcast alternative that picked up the network last fall to the excitement of practically no one, were robbed of the opportunity to closely follow two of the most exciting franchises in professional sports. Yes, the playoff games played by the Avs en route to the Stanley Cup championship were widely available, but ancillary coverage that would have enhanced the experience didn't receive nearly the viewership it deserved.

With both squads currently on the cusp of another post-season run, the timing of a resolution was auspicious, but the joint statement issued by the combatants hardly inspired celebration:
Comcast Corporation, Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, and Altitude Sports & Entertainment, LLC announce today that they have reached a settlement of their lawsuit pending in federal district court in Denver, Colorado. The parties will file shortly a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice of that suit. The terms of the settlement are confidential except that the parties acknowledge that the settlement does not involve the carriage of Altitude on Comcast's cable systems. Comcast and Altitude remain willing to discuss potential future business and distribution arrangements.
What does this actually mean? Essentially, that Comcast is willing to provide Altitude to customers who will pay extra for it, as they do for HBO, Showtime and the like — something the firm's executives were willing to offer at the beginning of the entire brouhaha.

This wholly unsatisfying conclusion only reinforces the idea that the regional sports-network model is broken — a claim made to Westword by Darrin Duber-Smith, a marketing professor and senior lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver, in October 2019, a few weeks into the standoff. And further proof isn't hard to find. In the beginning, Altitude Sports president Matt Hutchings told Westword that he only wanted the same treatment that Comcast had been giving to AT&T SportsNet, television home of the Colorado Rockies. Now, though, the channel's owner, Warner Bros. Discovery, is looking to ditch its regional sports properties, which could conceivably lead to Comcast jettisoning broadcasting the Rockies' games, too.

Having an excuse not to witness the Rockies stink up another campaign doesn't sound bad. But missing out on more Nuggets and Avs action blows — although not enough for me to pony up more dough to Comcast. My wife and I already pay the company an astronomical $136 per month, including premium fees, and for this sum, we receive dozens upon dozens of channels that we never watch and never will, thanks to the incredibly antiquated model that cable firms around the country continue to cling to as the world changes around them.

So let me make a proposal to you, Comcast. If you let me have Altitude again, you can switch off twenty other channels of my choice. Or maybe fifty. Hell, let's make it 100 channels that I'm paying for that I don't give one-tenth of a damn about. Then, and only then, will I buy your assertion that this dragged-out dispute was about treating everyone fairly instead of yet another attempt to shake more dollars out of me.

I'm waiting for your call. But I'm not holding my breath.
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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

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