Co-sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association – Rocky Mountain Region
Sports fans across the country are finding themselves in the middle of an increasingly pitched struggle between the providers of sports programming and video distribution platforms. Sports programming has exploded from Saturday afternoons past “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” to include specialized channels for specific sports (Golf Channel, Fox Soccer), national sports networks (ESPN), league-specific networks (NFL Network), regional sports networks (Fox Sports – Rocky Mountain), conference-specific (Big Ten Network, Mountain West), team-specific (YES) and team owner-specific (Altitude). With constraints on the amount of bandwidth that video programmers can dedicate to sports on cable and satellite systems, passionate fan demand for access, and no immediately principled way to balance pricing access to video platforms with sharing the rents generated by sports programming, what look like simple, bi-lateral contract disputes turn quickly into first order political and regulatory issues. To that end, the NFL Network has recently turned to the FCC, asking it to decide an ongoing dispute between it and Comcast over whether that network should be carried and under what terms and conditions.
Sports programming disputes include questions over whether sports networks should be located on special tiers of programming at a higher per-subscriber price or, in the alternative, more widely circulated on “enhanced” video subscription packages. While providers point to the spiraling costs of sports programming in an effort to shift some content to specialized tiers, the programmers counter that these companies unduly favor their own content by including these channels on basic or enhanced offerings. The friction created by vertical integration and exclusive deals between platform providers and programmers may only become more pronounced as more sports content transitions to high-definition format. Finally, as the convergence between television and the Internet occurs, the existing sports programming model could be turned on its head, with a new array of issues arising related to user-generated content (can sports fans post their own filmed clips of games?) and the ability to even further segment the viewing audience.
These marketplace developments raise a host of important questions for lawmakers and regulators alike. Does sports programming raise “public interest” issues that necessitate more drastic forms of government intervention to resolve disputes? Should these issues be the object of commercial negotiations instead? And does the highly fragmented market for sports programming mean that exclusive deals and vertical integration should be restricted?
To evaluate the appropriate policies to address sports programming disputes, this seminar will bring together a group of industry leaders to examine trends in the marketplace and address these questions.
Confirmed panelists include:
- Cathy Fogler – Former Vice President and General Manager of Video, Charter Communications
- Matt Bortz – President, SportsHD Productions, Inc.; President, SportZu.tv
- Ray Gifford – Partner, Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert
- Shelly Harper – Senior Vice President of Programming and Creative Services, Altitude Sports & Entertainment
- Eric Sahl – Senior Vice President of Programming, EchoStar
A reception will follow.
Federal Communications Bar Association - Rocky Mountain Region