Comcast comes under fire from ACA for suppressing members’ skinny bundles

Comcast Center's office in Philadelphia. Image: Comcast
Comcast owns regional sports networks in San Francisco, Sacramento, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., all recently rebranded under the “NBC Sports” moniker.

The American Cable Association has accused Comcast of coercing the org’s small-cable-operator members into suppressing their lower-cost pay-TV packages in an effort to prop up distribution of Comcast-owned regional sports networks. 

Comcast owns regional sports networks in San Francisco, Sacramento, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., all recently rebranded under the “NBC Sports” moniker. 

In an FCC filing, the ACA said that Comcast is beating its members down in program licensing negotiations, trying to limit the number of stripped-down, sports-free programming bundles these smaller cable operators sell. 

RELATED: Comcast rebrands ‘SportsNet' channels as ‘NBC Sports’

As an example, Bloomberg cited one allegedly typical Comcast clause, which it says calls for member companies to bundle the local NBC Sports RSN into the base tier if distribution of that tier reaches 15% of the operator’s overall footprint.

The ACA said Comcast’s tactics undermine small cable operators as they try to compete with over-the-top insurgents with lower-cost, sports-free programming bundles. Having to include regional sports networks drives up the cost of these bundles. 

"Many consumers that want to opt out of the big cable bundle in favor of a less expensive alternative are gravitating to a bundle that includes just the basic cable tier (essentially local TV stations) plus broadband Internet access and then relying on over-the-top video services to gain access to a more limited amount of cable programming more narrowly tailored to their specific interests," said ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka, in a statement. 

"Comcast, it seems, is standing in the way of ACA members that want to help their customers escape the burdens of the big and expensive expanded basic bundle of channels, while at the same time aggressively marketing a bundle of networks very similar to the broadcast basic tier to its own customers through its new 'Instant TV' service,’” Polka added.

The ACA represents more than 750 smaller cable operators across the U.S.

Through its NBCU division, Comcast released the following statement: “NBCUniversal negotiates in good faith with all of its distribution partners with the goal of making programming available to as many viewers as possible on fair market terms that are consistent with what other programmers offer.”