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Altitude TV blackout continues into third season

Most Avalanche and Nuggets regular season games will be blacked out for most metro Denver TV subscribers for a third season.
Credit: AP Photo/John Locher
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar

DENVER — For the third straight hockey season--and likely, basketball season--local broadcasts of Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets games will be blacked out on major local television providers, as Altitude TV, the regional sports network that broadcasts both, still hasn’t reached a deal with Comcast or DISH Network.

The Avalanche open the season on Wednesday with a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Ball Arena that will be nationally televised on TNT. 

The stalemate between the network and providers started more than two years ago, when three major carriage contracts for Altitude TV expired at the same time. The network was able to negotiate a deal with DirecTV months later. That satellite TV provider remains the only major provider able to carry the network’s programming.

“The only one who really loses in this battle are the fans,” Rob Silvershein, a former television executive turned industry analyst, said. 

Silvershein has explored the future of regional sports networks, which have been struggling with carriage negotiations in recent years.

The blackout includes a large swath of the metro area. According to data from the audience tracking firm Nielsen provided to 9NEWS, cable subscribers make up 34.9% of households with television in the Denver market. More than 90% of those cable subscribers are with Comcast. Satellite TV subscribers make up 19.2% of the market.

Last week, DISH Network announced it had removed AT&T SportsNet, which carries Colorado Rockies baseball games. In a statement, DISH Network said the regional sports network model is broken, as it charges providers a fee for all of their subscribers even if those subscribers don’t watch the network’s programming.

“Every day, week and month with cord-cutting happening, they’re starting to lose their edge,” Silvershein said. “More and more people are streaming, and out of anything, regional sports networks are the last vestige of pay TV.”

Silvershein said TV viewing habits are changing by generation. He said while older generations were used to paying for expensive cable packages, millennials are different.

“I always use the analogy of--I like to fly. I’m a little older, so I like flying United Airlines and I don’t mind spending an extra $100 to make sure I get a free soda and a bag of peanuts,” Silvershein said. “Millennials and the younger generations are willing to pay, but they only want to pay for what they want.”

Regional sports networks like Altitude have argued their programming is expensive to produce and they need the financial support of the current model to survive. The network sued Comcast in federal court, alleging the cable provider was using tactics to try and put Altitude out of business. The suit is still pending, which is also hindering negotiations.

“If you ask me what is the future of regional sports networks, I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you it’s going to more of an oligopoly than a bunch of regional independents, and I can tell you that there has to be other revenue streams involved,” Silvershein said.

Silvershein said sports networks will have to figure out “a la carte” programs for these younger generations of fans who are willing to pay to see their team, but don’t want the extra programming that comes with an expensive cable package.

He also suggests sports betting may influence the debate as well.

“There’s too much money here," he said. "There’s just too much money for it not to get resolved.”

Altitude TV has yet to respond to a 9NEWS request for comment on the current status of negotiations with each provider. In a previous statement announcing the season schedule, the network said Comcast and DISH Network “continue to deny thousands of fans across a ten-state region access to their hometown teams.”

“Both Comcast and DISH Network remand steadfast in demanding terms that would put Altitude out of business and in the process raise prices for our fans to watch their local teams- something we won’t allow,” Matt Hutchins, COO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which owns Altitude TV, said in that September statement.

DISH Network told 9NEWS it stands ready to carry Altitude Sports at a price that is fair to its customers.

“The current regional sports network (RSN) model is broken, that’s why we have offered Altitude Sports, on multiple occasions, the option to provide their programming to our customers on an ala carte basis - similar to premium channel subscriptions,” a spokesman for DISH Network said in a statement.

“Altitude Sports could set the price, interested customers could subscribe, and Altitude Sports could keep all the revenue. It’s a win-win for Altitude Sports and Denver sports fans. Unfortunately, Altitude Sports has refused our offers and has not even responded the last few times we reached out. DISH remains open to working with Altitude Sports to offer content in a way that provides choice and value to all customers. We have made similar offers to AT&T SportsNet and Root Sports, as well."

A spokesman for Comcast cited the lawsuit Altitude filed as a stumbling block.

“Instead of focusing its energy on negotiating a mutually agreeable deal allowing Comcast customers to continue watching the Avalanche and Nuggets’ games, Altitude chose to file a meritless federal lawsuit, which is still ongoing – despite the judge dismissing most of the claims,” Leslie Oliver, a spokeswoman for Comcast, wrote in a statement to 9NEWS.

Altitude is available on DirecTV and DirecTV’s separate streaming service.

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