Magazine article Variety

Studios Still Play Hardball

Magazine article Variety

Studios Still Play Hardball

Article excerpt

Volley of verbiage between Comcast and Tennis Channel proves that leverage matters

As NBC and other networks struggle to find hit comedies, who knew the funniest guy in showbiz was working for Comcast's PR department?

Asked about the litigation involving the Tennis Channel - which has maintained that Comcast exhibited favoritism toward sports networks it owns, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network, at Tennis' expense - the spokesman responded, "Comcast's decision to carry Tennis Channel was the product of legitimate business considerations, not affiliation."

See what they did there? Ha ha, ha ha ha.

But wait, it gets better. Comcast has also sought to justify its actions by saying Tennis Channel doesn't possess the same appeal as the Golf Channel. Since both are relatively narrow sports most desirable in media terms for attracting an upper-income bracket, issuing such a straight-faced assertion requires balls, and not of the golf-sized variety.

Major Hollywood players have always used their clout to gain a competitive advantage, from selling TV shows to booking movies. It's as much a part of the atmosphere, of the culture, as expensive cars and lying about how much you liked someone's last project.

Frankly, what's the point of being a global media conglomerate if you can't, you know, throw your weight around?

Indeed, in an increasingly uncertain marketplace, one can argue these companies would be remiss if they didn't explore every reasonable avenue to maximize returns and shareholder value.

While there are rules to curtail these practices, the key word in Comcast's statement, "legitimate," is where the trouble always begins - creating gray areas that inevitably lead to friction and amusing press releases.

Because so many decisions are subjective and hardly amount to an exact science, there are various ways to explain choosing one commodity over another, and to debate whether that boils down to good business sense or more nefarious (and usually self-serving) motives.

Even so, the existence of federal guidelines has less prevented companies from exercising their corporate muscle than inspired them to find creative methods and to coin colorful euphemisms to mask (or more charitably, cast the most favorable light on) their underlying objectives, which is to devise the means of making two plus two equal five without merely pressuring their accounting departments to do it. …

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