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US appeals court rules in favour of Comcast in Tennis Channel dispute

US pay-television provider Comcast did not discriminate against pay-television broadcaster Tennis Channel by placing it in a different cable television subscription tier than its own sports networks, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reverses a July 2012 decision from the Federal Communications Commission, the United States media regulator, that ordered Comcast to place Tennis Channel on its digital basic tier.

The commission said the Tennis Channel must be moved from Comcast’s digital sports tier to the basic tier, which is more widely available and already carries the Comcast-owned pay-television channels Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network.

However, Comcast had argued the FCC’s ruling impacted on its freedom of editorial judgement and speech, adding that its placement of the Tennis Channel was based on financial analysis, not discrimination against a rival.

Ruling in favour of Comcast on Tuesday, Judge Stephen Williams said the latter argument was enough. This was because the FCC did not present evidence to demonstrate how Comcast would benefit financially from broader distribution of the Tennis Channel.

Tennis Channel has expressed its intention to seek further review of the case, adding in a statement that Comcast’s “clear pattern of discrimination…warrants further review of the panel's decision and we intend to seek that review.”

Comcast said: “Tennis Channel received exactly the carriage it bargained for and agreed to. Comcast's decision to carry Tennis Channel was the product of legitimate business considerations, not affiliation.”