Comcast, Altitude settle antitrust lawsuit without carriage deal

Cable giant Comcast and Altitude Sports and Entertainment have settled a three-year lawsuit over carriage of the latter's regional sports network.

The settlement, much of which has been kept confidential and is still pending approval in federal court, but does not include a carriage deal, which means Comcast's video customers still won't have access to the fledging network that carries some professional sports of interest to Colorado viewers.

The lawsuit was first filed in late 2019 shortly after Comcast dropped the channel from its systems, which left viewers in Denver and other parts of the Mountain West unable to watch games played by the Denver Nuggets (basketball), Colorado Avalanche (hockey) and Colorado Rapids (soccer), among other sports.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Altitude alleged Comcast violated federal antitrust laws by dropping the channel, arguing the cable network was trying to impair Altitude's reach and other elements of its business. In an early complaint filed by Altitude, the regional sports company argued Comcast was working to establish its own regional sports network in Colorado and was hoping to clinch licensing rights to professional sports for itself.

Since then, Comcast has largely moved in the other direction: Last August, it sold a majority stake in its Washington, D.C.-area NBC Sports channel. It also closed its two national sports channels, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel; it eventually distributed national sports rights to its NBC broadcast network, cable channel USA and streaming service Peacock.

Comcast still operates five regional sports networks — two in California and one each in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago — and holds a minority stake in SportsNet New York (SNY), but the undoing of its national cable sports channels and its withdrawal from the Washington market indicate Comcast has pulled back on making an impact with regional sports. It wasn't clear if the early allegations that Comcast wanted to launch its own sports network for Colorado were ever in play, or, if they were, if the company was still considering those plans.

With the lawsuit largely behind it, Comcast and Altitude appear headed back to the negotiating table, and the cable company has already made public some of its terms for carriage of the Colorado sports channel.

"Comcast has been clear all along that we want to make the games available to the fans who want to watch them without making everyone else pay," a Comcast spokesperson said in a statement published by CBS News, suggesting the cable company would be open to an agreement if Altitude's owners allowed the channel to be carried on an à la carte basis.

For its part, Altitude said both sides "remain willing to discuss potential future business and distribution arrangements," but didn't say what the elements of an agreement might look like on their end.

At least for the foreseeable future, Comcast cable and Internet customers in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and surrounding areas will have to look at other options to receive Altitude. Streaming services DirecTV Stream and Fubo TV offer Altitude online, and the channel is also available through Comcast's main competitor, Charter, which offers TV service under the Spectrum brand.