Plastered across the bottom of the screen during the Altitude TV broadcast of the Denver Nuggets game against the Sacramento Kings on Monday night was the respective toll free numbers for Comcast, Direct TV and Dish Network, urging fans to call the networks and demand change. How many saw it? Impossible to tell. Altitude TV has gone dark on all three TV providers, the result of a contract dispute that has gone on for over a month. Those three television providers of course dominate the market share so the majority of Altitude’s viewers, and Nuggets fans, are left with very few options to watch the games.
It’s important to note that Altitude is really getting the raw end of the deal. The most synonymous network to them in this region is AT&T Sports Rocky Mountain, a channel currently provided as part of their Choice channel package on Direct TV. Altitude was on the same tier but now presumably is being asked to move to a more expensive one. Of course, the major eye opener comes when one realizes that AT&T owns Direct TV and how that could effect good faith negotiations. The same thought process applies to Comcast and their own sports network, the NBC Sports Network. With none of the other major TV providers airing Altitude, the Big Three (as Altitude TV has labeled Comcast, Dish and Direct TV) has all the leverage in the negotiations and make no mistake, the strong arming is on. Consider it from their perspective, how many customers do they have to lose before it outweighs eliminating a competitor to one of their subsidiaries? My guess is a lot.
That’s the real shame of it. As this dispute drags on the reality of Altitude shutting it doors becomes more and more real. You can stand wherever you want on the battle of billionaires vs billionaires, but it’s undeniable that as fans we lose if Altitude TV ceases to exist. The production they create every Nuggets game is fantastic and the on-air talent they have assembled is a marvelous group from Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings on the call to Katy Winge and Chris Dempsey on the beat to Vic Lombardi, Bill Hanzlik and Todd Romero in the studio. Across the board that group is a combination of personality, knowledge and humor that is tough to find. Also, as someone who has had the chance to meet many of the Altitude team, I can tell you that they are outstanding people in real life as well. While certainly all would land on their feet, what we have now with the Altitude broadcast team is special and it would be a disservice to all of us to see them broken up.
Unfortunately, as the dispute drags on and full broadcasts are lost fans grow weary no matter how good the people on the screen are. After all, if there’s no screen to watch it on not much else matters. It’s pretty clear that fans are fed up in fact. Take a quick gander over at the Altitude TV twitter feed and the interaction they are getting is overwhelmingly negative. It’s hard to really blame the fans though. The prognosticators all swore up and down there was no way we’d miss actual regular season games. Surely in the final hour a deal would be struck. Yet, as the Nuggets took on the Kings Monday night in their third game of the season the majority of the fanbase was unable to watch, by legal means at least. Altitude is doing what they can, making a one off deal with local channel 20 KTVD to air the home opener and providing a means for local restaurants and bars to air the games. They’ve stated they are willing to invest into technology for a greater fan experience on the broadcasts.
That’s the problem though. To quote Stephen A. Smith:
New technology for a greater customer experience is great, but it’s main purpose in this instance seems to be to provide a more desirable product for the Big Three. Showing games at bars and restaurants is great, but that hits fans pockets unrealistically hard for viewing an entire season. Airing the home opener on a local TV station was awesome, but the broadcast at times almost felt more like a “Save Altitude TV” telethon. None of these stopgaps are sustainable and none of them put the fans first. They help the cable companies, the downtown bar owners and Altitude themselves. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t help the majority of the fan base consume Altitude’s product and the fans are sick and tired of being the ones taking the brunt of these failed negotiations.
Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any indication of coming to a resolution soon. There doesn’t seem like there’s much in the way negotiating power on the Altitude’s side, and there doesn’t seem much motivation on the Big Three’s side to budge. Meanwhile, games continue to air with Marlowe and Hastings banter being heard by relatively few. You don’t have to be a business genius to realize Altitude has to be bleeding profits with every broadcast that goes largely unviewed. That every game not aired by the Big three is going to have major impacts on Altitude’s advertising partners. It seems though the Big Three are set up to run the long game and who knows what will be left when the rubble clears and how long it will take to get the Nuggets back on everyone’s TVs. Once again, it’ll be the fans who are left suffering and waiting to watch their team.