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Verizon & DirecTV: We Weren't Offered Swing at 3D Masters

As Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) teed off 3DTV coverage of The Masters from Augusta National Golf Club Wednesday afternoon, officials at Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) said they weren't offered the feed being distributed to major cable MSOs nationwide.

"We were not offered The Masters' 3D feed from Comcast and Sony," DirecTV spokeswoman Jade Ekstedt said. Augusta is partnering with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) to distribute 3DTV video from the tournament on Masters.com and on select cable systems. Ekstedt wouldn't comment on discussions DirecTV may have had with Augusta about distributing the event.

Verizon spokeswoman Heather Willner said Augusta did not offer the telco the option to offer 3D Masters feed to its FiOS TV subscribers with 3D-enabled TVs.

Comcast, which has provided cable-TV service to Augusta National as the local operator for more than 30 years, is distributing a 3DTV feed from Augusta through its Comcast Media Center (CMC) facility in Denver. As of Wednesday afternoon, a handful of cable operators -- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Cox Communications Inc. , and Canadian MSO Shaw Communications Inc. -- had signed on to carry Comcast's 3DTV coverage of the prestigious golf tourney. (See ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game and Masters 3DTV Coverage Exclusive to Cable .)

Comcast isn't charging fellow cable MSOs any fees for supplying them the 3D feed, senior vice president of video product development Mark Hess said last week at an event in New York, where the MSO demonstrated 3DTV video from Augusta running on 3DTVs and a laptop computer. (See Comcast Courts Early 3DTV Adopters.)

The Masters 3D coverage isn't the first 3D sports content exclusive to cable. On March 24, Cablevision offered its subscribers a 3DTV broadcast of a New York Rangers game. (See Cablevision, Verizon Set Stage for 3DTV Battle .)

While the Masters 3DTV coverage on television will be exclusive to cable this year, Verizon and DirecTV are downplaying cable's 3D golf coverage, and touting their own 3D plans. Ekstedt noted DirecTV will launch a linear and video-on-demand 3DTV channel in June, in addition to ESPN 3D, a new part-time channel. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets and ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game .)

Verizon hasn't yet detailed its 3DTV strategy. In a statement it released last week, the company said it would announce its 3DTV programming plans "well in advance of the holiday TV-shopping season." And while Verizon didn't refer to specific cable exclusive 3D content such as Cablevision's hockey game or the Masters, it did criticize distributors that haven't given it access to 3D sporting events.

"Some content owners have elected to specifically exclude Verizon and other competitive distributors from carriage of these 3D events in an effort to advantage their distribution businesses. Others have fixed ridiculously high prices for the content. Verizon's position is that integrated operators should not withhold programming options from the marketplace, and that consumers should have the freedom to choose the distributor that best meets their needs,” it said in a statement from FiOS VP of product management Shawn Strickland. (See Verizon Derides Cable 3DTV Efforts.)

In January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it more difficult for Comcast and other cable MSOs to offer exclusive content to subscribers, when it tightened a loophole in the 1992 Cable Act that allowed cable operators to block access to networks that are delivered terrestrially. The FCC also issued rules in January that allow cable competitors to file a complaints at the commission involving blocked access to programming delivered terrestrially. (See FCC Tightens 'Terrestrial Loophole' and VZ Tunes In Comcast's Philly Network.)

Although Verizon criticized distributors in its statement for offering exclusive 3D content to subscribers, the company declined to comment when asked to detail which distributors and content it was referring to. It also wouldn't comment on whether it would consider filing an FCC complaint regarding cable's exclusive distribution of The Masters in 3D.

Augusta contracted ESPN to produce the 3DTV feed, beginning with the Par 3 competition Wednesday afternoon, which ran from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Comcast will deliver live 3D coverage to its MSO partners during the first two rounds of play today and Friday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

Comcast is hosting several viewing parties for VIPs, where it will run its 3D feed from Augusta. Time Warner detailed plans on Wednesday for viewing parties in New York, San Diego, and Charlotte, N.C.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

Cooper10 12/5/2012 | 4:40:00 PM
re: Verizon & DirecTV: We Weren't Offered Swing at 3D Masters Strange, when FiOS has "exclusive" content (see link below) they have no trouble with the concept of not sharing content with their competitors, but the shoe apparently doesn't fit so well on the other foot.

http://newscenter.verizon.com/...
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