Updated: Tennis Channel, Cablevision Fire Latest Volleys In Distribution Dispute
Net Swings At Upcoming Launch Of MSO-Owned MSG Varsity Network; Operator: 'They Can Not Be Serious'
Mike Reynolds 9/11/2009 12:29:28 PM EDT

With a gloomy forecast, it doesn't appear there will be much action at the U.S. Open tennis championship today.
But that didn't stop Tennis Channel from putting the ball in play in its distribution dispute with Cablevision.

Tennis issued a statement this morning, taking a swing at Cablevision's upcoming launch of MSG Varsity, a high school sports service that is slated to launch on Sept. 24, while it remains in the carriage net with metro New York's top cable operator.

For its part, Cablevision returned later in the day, referencing one of tennis' most famous lines.

Cablevision, announced on Aug. 26, that it wanted to launch Tennis on its iO Sports Pak under a contract with the National Television Cable Cooperative. Tennis, which has not authorized its signal, said it had legal issues with Cablevision's unilaterally putting out a press release about its wont to launch the service and that it wasn't given a 30-day notification period to do so.

As such, the MSG Varsity launch is slated the day before that 30-day period expires.

In its statement, Tennis said it was surprised by Cablevision's plan for a broad launch of MSG Varsity across its 3.1 million subscriber base, making it the second-owned new network -- presumably a reference to the Wedding Central, a service that was spun off from We TV on Aug. 18 -- that was afforded "nearly full distribution in recent weeks."

While professing its "great respect" for high school sports, Tennis said it has "negotiated for more than four years to bring the world's best tennis to a New York audience of that size, but Cablevision has awarded that opportunity to a nascent and untried concept simply because it owns the network ...But with telecast rights to all four Grand Slams -- including the U.S. Open -- among 70 other tournaments worldwide, thousands of hours of live HD coverage and ratings competitive with many of cable's biggest networks, it is disappointing that the sole criterion we lack for expanded carriage is ownership by Cablevision."

The statement continued by suggesting that Cablevision subscribers who are tennis fans "should insist on an explanation for how MSG Varsity, with no history of ratings or advertising commitments and a reported schedule of largely taped events, will receive widespread distribution to all of Cablevision's three-plus million customers while Cablevision insists that Tennis Channel be available only on a limited tier serving less than five percent of its total subscriber base."

Cablevision responded Friday afternoon, riffing on John McEnroe's famous comment.

"They can not be serious. We have a valid agreement to carry Tennis Channel, and it is not our fault that they are angry about being held to the terms of a contract they willingly entered into," the operator said in a statement. "Maybe, Tennis Channel should spend less time issuing bizarre press statements and more time reading the binding agreement they signed that requires them to make the network available to any Cablevision customer who wants it."