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8/22/2004

Altitude leaves its customers gasping

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Local cable television subscribers who are fans of the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets are keeping their fingers crossed.

Negotiations are ongoing between Comcast — which provides cable TV service to Longmont, Lafayette, the Tri-Towns and several other Colorado communities, including Denver — and Altitude Sports & Entertainment, the upstart network started by Kroenke Sports Enterprises, the company that owns the Avalanche and Nuggets.

Altitude CEO Jim Martin refused to comment directly on the negotiations with Comcast, noting only that “we’re talking to everybody.”

Altitude will serve all or parts of 10 states, so there is a multitude of cable TV and satellite companies with which to negotiate, he said.

“Some deals are closer than others,” Martin said. Asked specifically about the talks with Comcast, Martin would say only, “We’re doing our best to get a deal done with them.”

Comcast spokeswoman Cindy Parsons also refused comment, other than a brief e-mail statement that read, in part, “We continue to examine carriage possibilities that keep all of our customers’ best interests in mind.”

Last month, Altitude announced that it had reached an agreement with EchoStar Communications Corp., which will carry the sports network on its DISH Network.

“They are the first large operator to sign on,” Martin said. “Certainly, for most of the market, it’s (currently) only available on DISH, but in the future it’s unlikely that will continue to be the case.”

In March, Kroenke Sports Enterprises announced the formation of the new TV network and let its contract with Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain expire, giving the new network two major franchises on which to hang its hat.

Along with a minimum of 130 regular-season broadcasts of Avs and Nuggets games, Altitude will feature contests involving the Colorado Rapids soccer team, the Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox baseball club.

The network, which debuts the first week of September, also has agreements with multiple college conferences to broadcast Division I football and basketball games, including Big 12 and Mountain West games.

Early last week, Altitude announced contracts with two cable TV providers, including CenturyTel Communications, which serves the Eagle area, and K2 Communications, which serves Weld County subscribers in the Mead area.

Gary Shields, general manager of K2, said his customers won’t have to pay extra to receive Altitude.

“No, that’s going to be carried on my basic-service tier, and though it cost me a considerable amount to add that programming, we have not raised our rates for that package,” Shields said.

Martin said his company won’t make any deals with cable or satellite companies that want to designate Altitude a premium channel and thereby charge extra for it.

“It’s the only way we’ll permit carriage,” Martin said. “It’s got to be on basic or expanded basic. That’s the only way to make it work, is to have it offered to the widest audience possible.”

Altitude’s coverage area will be all of seven states and parts of three others. For Avs and Nuggets games, the respective leagues determine where those games can and cannot be shown.

The vast coverage area means Martin’s sales team is negotiating with a number of different cable and satellite providers, including smaller outfits like K2 and larger ones like Comcast. Satellite provider DirecTV is another large provider that has yet to sign a contract with Altitude.

“Not all of these deals will be done by the time we launch,” Martin said. “We’ll launch with our existing subscribers.

“Our belief is we’ll have pretty much full coverage by the time the (National Hockey League) and (National Basketball Association) seasons begin.”

He estimated about 1 million viewers will be able to see Altitude when it debuts in two weeks. For those concerned about being left out, Martin naturally recommends that they “call their local provider.”

At least two sports fans called the Daily Times-Call in the past week, perhaps driven by sports-talk radio, on which the Comcast situation was a topic. Shields said he also received calls from some alarmed fans.

“It wasn’t until this week that I received the calls, and I just reassured them that I would be carrying it and they would receive the same games (as DISH subscribers),” he said.

While certainly not privy to any of the Altitude/Comcast negotiations, Shields did offer up one thought.

“I imagine they have a little more bargaining power because of the number of subscribers,” he said. “I can’t imagine being in business along the Front Range and not being able to carry the Avs and the Nuggets. That’d be like someone having an exclusive agreement with the Broncos, and certain people not being able to see the games.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at kindelspire@times-call.com.