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Comcast-Altitude TV lawsuit screeches to a halt

Altitude TV's antitrust lawsuit against Comcast is on pause, thanks primarily to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

In court documents, Comcast alleged that Altitude, a regional sports network (RSN) that provides local coverage of the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, wanted to use the process to "gain bargaining leverage" and to notch a "more favorable deal than it was able to reach through commercial negotiations."

Last week, the court granted Comcast a temporary stay until April 30, 2020.

In its ruling to stay discovery and delay the disclosure of evidence, the court said the "overriding concern" is COVID-19, which has enforced work slowdowns in Colorado and the rest of the US. (The city of Denver just imposed a stay-at-home order.) As a corollary element, the court noted that the regular seasons of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have been suspended amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Colorado district court added expects Comcast's motion to dismiss the lawsuit to be addressed "in a very timely fashion. This also weighs in favor of a temporary stay." Comcast filed its original motion to dismiss on January 14.

Among other recent court action, Altitude was granted an extra week to respond to Comcast's motion to dismiss. The RSN now has until this Friday (March 27) to file that response.

Altitude filed the antitrust suit in November, alleging that Comcast is attempting to demand a dramatic cut in rates paid to Altitude, move the RSN to a "sports tier" rather than a widely distributed, more basic pay-TV tier, drive Altitude out of business, and possibly seize on an opportunity to take over the local sports TV market with its own.

Comcast claims the suit is a move by Altitude to convert a "garden variety commercial disagreement into an antitrust suit" that seeks to force Comcast to carry the network in perpetuity on the RSN's preferred terms. Comcast is also fighting Altitude's allegations that Comcast is a monopoly buyer, holding that its 57% of the regional sports market falls short of the 70% to 80% necessary to hold monopoly power.

Altitude's carriage agreement with Comcast expired on August 31, 2019.

Altitude is at a similar impasse with Dish Network, though that battle has not made its way into the court. Last month, Dish announced it would make Altitude available on its satellite TV and Sling TV service on an à la carte basis, with Altitude setting the price and Altitude receiving 100% of those revenues.

Altitude has previously argued that offering the RSN on a standalone basis, rather than as part of a more broadly distributed basic pay-TV package, is not financially viable.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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