As the disconnect for beIN SPORTS (US) and beIN SPORTS en Español (US) hits the one-week mark, the programmer said it continues to have discussions with Verizon Communications Inc.'s Fios TV, while it has not heard from Comcast Corp. since the networks went dark Aug. 1.
Antonio Briceno, beIN Sports' deputy managing director for the U.S. and Canada, said in an interview that the programmer also plans to refile information to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in its complaint against Comcast for alleged violations of program carriage rules.
With a contract that expired Aug. 1, the two sports-centric networks went dark on the distributors. Two days later the FCC Media Bureau dismissed beIN Sports' claim that Comcast allegedly discriminated against the channels in favor of cable networks NBCSN (US) and UNIVERSO (US), which are part of content arm NBCUniversal Media LLC's portfolio.
Both Verizon and Comcast said that beIN Sports is seeking substantial rate increases. Briceno, though, said the programmer offered to keep the signals available in good faith at the current terms while negotiations continued and that its position centers on broader availability of the product.
"This is not about rates," he said. "Our goal is to gain wider distribution so subscribers can gain access to all of our content at lower costs."
In the case of Comcast, the networks are located on a sports tier and Spanish-language package, and beIN is seeking berths on more highly penetrated levels of service.
The sports programmer had better positioning with Verizon and wants to maintain it, "but they are looking to roll us back to sports and Spanish-language tiers," according to Briceno.
Verizon — which continues to run messaging on the channels indicating it does not have the right to air the programming and that beIN rejected "our offer" and "has proposed a significant rate increase for the same content they offer today" — did not respond to queries for an update by press time.
Briceno said if beIN acceded to the demands by Comcast and Verizon it would cost subscribers another $10 to $11 per month on top of what they pay now to watch the networks.
"There has been plenty of support from our customer base in reaching out to Comcast and Verizon and the leagues haven't even kicked off yet," said Briceno, referring to two of the programmer's properties, Ligue 1 and La Liga, the top soccer circuits in France and Spain, which begin their 2018-2019 seasons on Aug. 10 and Aug. 17, respectively.
Asked if a protracted blackout with the top cable operator and the telco might change the company's negotiating stance, Briceno said the company is committed to "fight the fight. We stand as an independent programmer ready to provide the best content to more customers."
The programmer has affiliate contracts with the rest of the top 10 video distributors, as well as carriage on virtual providers including DIRECTV NOW, Sling TV and fuboTV. "There are plenty of alternatives for fans to access the networks," Briceno said, adding he believes the channels' absence "ultimately will prove detrimental to the customers of Verizon and Comcast."
Citing confidentiality clauses, Briceno said he could not discuss whether other distribution deals were nearing their expiration.
In dismissing the carriage complaint, the FCC determined that the programmer didn't provide enough evidence that its networks are "similarly situated" to NBCSN and Universo, based at least in part concerning their future programming. Moreover, beIN didn't prove that Comcast had discriminated against the channels in the past.
"We applaud the FCC's Media Bureau for dismissing beIN's complaint and allowing us to make program carriage decisions based on sound business reasons and in the best interests of our customers," Comcast said in a statement. "Our carriage of the beIN channels was consistent with how they are carried by most other cable and satellite providers as niche services on specialty and less-penetrated tiers. We in no way discriminated against beIN."
Comcast declined to comment about the ongoing disconnect with the programmer.
In addition to the aforementioned soccer leagues, beIN Sports' portfolio includes CONMEBOL and CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, WTA tennis, rugby, boxed, mixed martial arts and Conference USA college sports fare. The company maintains that its lineup is as compelling as what NBCSN and Universo present, which includes the Premier League, the U.K.'s best soccer league.
Briceno said the company is encouraged that the FCC didn't provide support for Comcast's primary arguments and the Media Bureau's "ruling without prejudice" means beIN can revisit the complaint. "We need to refile the information regarding the programming that will be featured on our networks in a different format, in term sheets." The expectation, he said, is that "we're going to resend the information."
The FCC complaint also extends to Comcast not carrying the networks in the high-definition format and that beIN's Connect livestreaming offering is not authenticated by the distributor. As such, Comcast subscribers had been unable to watch multiple concurrent soccer matches and other fare that the sports networks serve up digitally.
Although some smaller operators lack the technical capabilities, Briceno said beIN subscribers to other distributors can access the content in HD and screen the simultaneous match coverage digitally.