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Altitude TV dangles carrots to lure fans to DirecTV

Altitude TV has been tossing in some goodies as part of an effort to get Denver-area sports fans to switch to DirecTV as the regional sports network's impasse with Comcast and Dish Network continues.

Altitude, which provides local TV coverage of the Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), Colorado Mammoth (National Lacrosse League) and Colorado Rapids (Major League Soccer), has teamed with AT&T on a giveaway that includes a $150 Visa gift card (provided by DirecTV); two regular season tickets to a Nuggets, Avs, Rapids or Mammoth game; and $25 credits for merchandise at the Altitude team store at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to consumers who move to DirecTV.

DirecTV reps were at the Pepsi Center through March 5 during the initial offer, and are now making good on the offer at more than a dozen Denver-area AT&T stores through March 15.

Altitude's latest pitch for the switch comes about six months after the RSN's deals with Dish and Comcast expired, and four months after Altitude struck a new deal with AT&T-owned DirecTV. AT&T TV, the new OTT-delivered streaming service, currently does not carry Altitude.

The offer is also being made as Altitude continues to pursue a law suit against Comcast on antitrust grounds, alleging that Comcast is attempting to drive Altitude out of business and possibly seize on an opportunity to take over the local sports TV market with its own RSN. Unless a settlement is reached or a new carriage deal is struck, the Altitude-Comcast case could drag deep into 2021 and possibly threaten local coverage of next year's regular season of both the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.

There are no indications that either side is about to blink. In the latest activity at the Colorado District Court, Comcast filed a motion to dismiss Altitude's amended complaint on February 28.

The case highlights the ongoing tension between RSNs and pay-TV distributors in an age of cord-cutting and a general erosion of the US pay-TV industry. Altitude's business model has been based on being on a widely distributed tier, but Comcast wants to provide access to Altitude on a sports tier. Both sides also disagree on price.

"In the past year, Comcast began making demands in negotiations with Altitude that Comcast knew made no economic sense and would drive Altitude out of business," Altitude claimed in an amended complaint filed last month. "The demands represent dramatic cuts in rates to be paid to Altitude."

Comcast has a different view. "In a transparent play for negotiating leverage, Altitude now tries to convert this garden variety commercial disagreement into an antitrust suit that seeks to force Comcast to carry the network in perpetuity on Altitude's preferred terms," Comcast said in its latest motion at the court.

Comcast is also countering Altitude's allegations that Comcast is a monopoly buyer, as it has a 57% share of the regional sports market, short of the 70% to 80% necessary for monopoly power, and shooting down speculation by Altitude that Comcast intends to replace Altitude as a Denver RSN.

Altitude has not filed a similar suit against Dish, but those sides also have been bickering. In late February, Dish struck down accusations that it is not negotiating in good faith with Altitude, backing that with an open offer that would make the RSN to its satellite TV and Sling TV customers on an à la carte basis. Dish claims this would enable Altitude to set the price and that 100% of the revenue would go to Altitude. Altitude has already argued that offering the RSN on a standalone basis is not financially viable.

Other RSNs are in similar battles. Last week, Sinclair Broadcast Group struck a new, somewhat unusual deal with YouTube to have the OTT-TV service carry 19 of its 21 Fox RSNs. Not making the cut were two networks focused on the Los Angeles metro market: Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West. YouTube TV has also dropped the Yankees' YES Network (Amazon and Sinclair are strategic partners in YES).

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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