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Marianne Paskowski

Cable Is Big Victor in NFL Net Simulcast

December 27, 2007 12:34 PM

There’s been a lot of blather about how viewers are the victors now that the NFL Network, after failing to reach carriage agreements with major cable operators, caved and will simulcast the Patriots-Giants game on CBS and NBC.

The real victors are cable operators who refused to pay the high license fee and have argued that such a big-ticket item belongs on a sports tier, an option the NFL-owned network doesn’t cotton to at all. Given this decision, now the NFL doesn’t have any bargaining chips when it re-enters negotiations with Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable, the nation’s two largest MSOs, next year.

I commend cable ops for their stance. Neither Comcast nor Time Warner wants to pass the high costs along to all of their subscribers. Both companies have been adamant about putting the NFL Network on a sports tier where it belongs.

In the end, the NFL Net, pressured by lawmakers including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had no leverage here. Pats fans would have thrown another Boston Tea Party if they couldn’t watch this all-important game for their team, which hasn’t lost a game all season.

Personally, I hope the debate about sports tiers heats up even more. ESPN, another pricey network, belongs on a sports tier with the NFL Network. Agree?


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Comments (20)

Chi-town Mike:

I have some "sportsfan" thoughts on this that fall into 2 categories the decision and the game itself.

Obviously the decision is a major "Win Win" for the fans. Hopefully *meaningless games (more on that later) like this won't get pushed under the NFL network or the big "NO-NO" that the NFL has been kicking around for years which would be putting "The Superbowl" on either the NFL network or making it a PPV event. While I don't see that happening anytime soon, it keeps getting through out on the table and might be a reality many years from now.

As for this *meaningless game - yes it's important for the fact that the Patriots will probably go 16-0, but the game itself is going to be a real stinker. Both teams don't have any real incentive to play their star players after the first quarter. I'm guessing that many casual fans will probably watch the beginning and end of the game and won't be as interested in the rest, but at least they now have the option on how much they can watch.

In the end the decision to televise this game is much bigger than the game itself. It shows that the fans still have a voice, and the NFL is smart to listen to their fans unlike the NHL which hasn't.

Dear Marianne,

A tier?

Why stop there?

Let's go all the way.

Make it a la carte.


Marianne Paskowski:

I think the NFL net is a play at pure greed. The owners down make enough at the stadiums, overpriced tickets, parking and refreshments? They don't make enough money in traditional ad time on broadcast?

Sure they go. But they want more. That's what this pricey move to cable is all about. Let them feel the pain by putting it on a sports tier.

Happy New Year,

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Cory,

Sure why not blow up the entire television economic model? I loved how NFL net pres Steve Bornstein, a former ESPN guy cried that since his was a stand-alone net, he didn't have the clout others nets do. Poor baby.


Andy S.:

"Personally, I hope the debate about sports tiers heats up even more. ESPN, another pricey network, belongs on a sports tier with the NFL Network. Agree?"

No, because ESPN is a general-service sports channel with demonstrated appeal. If they were to move to an expensive tier, their audience would plummet and they'd cease to be the cultural phenomenon they are now. Nobody would see or care about their clever promo campaign. Nobody would watch SportsCenter; their on-air personalities would no longer be magnets.

The NFL Network is a start-up showing one or two games per week in time periods where NFL football didn't even exist a few years ago. Their games are simulcast in the local markets of the teams involved, so most of their fans will see them. Speaking just for myself, even though I'm a football fan I wouldn't buy a premium sports tier just to get those games. If they'd been played on Sundays, I wouldn't have seen them anyway, so I'm not really missing anything I wasn't getting before.

Marianne Paskowski:

Yo Andy,

Let me clarify. I am not a sports viewer. I don't want to see my cable rates go up because of ESPN first, and now, again, this wanna be NFL net.

I am not gonna pay a lot for this muffler.I will spend it at the spa.

Good to hear from you,


Hey M, long time no talk.
I see no reason for this NFL Network to exist at all, other than to force more money out of people's pockets. Are there really a shortage of outlets willing and able to carry this content? Hell no. What's next, a unique channel for each team? A channel for each and every single game played?

NFL Network. Just say "no."

Marianne Paskowski:

First, welcome back, and second I couldn't agree more with you. Have you ever seen such hubris? Hubris translates into greed. Personally, I just get ticked off paying for ESPN, on basic, driving my cable bill up. I have never watched it. Now this, from the NFL?

No way.

Happy New Year,

Andy S.:

"Personally, I just get ticked off paying for ESPN, on basic, driving my cable bill up. I have never watched it."

But that's only part of the a la carte argument. My question to you is: what basic cable channels do YOU watch that I never watch, but still have to pay for? Once you answer that, you realize that the equation isn't as one-sided as you make it appear. Once you start delegating channels to special tiers, or go full a la carte, it won't be just my favorites that are effected, but everybody's. I think it's a lose-lose both for the business as a whole and the consumer. But I guess that's another thread.


I get what you're saying about ESPN and it driving up cable bills, but it unlike NFL Net has become a part of natural TV viewing for most viewers. I'm sure there are several channels on my cable that you love that I personally hate and wish it were gone to help cheapen up my cable bill too. That said, I agree with the others in that ala carte would be awesome.
Have a good one,

Marianne Paskowski:

H hear you but there's a difference. Let's say operators pay $2.00 per sub to carry ESPN and pass on a percentage of that cost.

I'm not saying I watch Hallmark, but Hallmark is lucky to get 4 cents per sub from operators, so the pass through to subs is much lower.

I was only kidding when I replied to Cory, heck let's just blow up the entire economic model while we're at it.

If you followed a restaurant's menu, most do it right. If you just want an appy, you pay for that, but if you want soups to nuts, the price is built into the expanded offering.

Why can't cable offer either a package that would include everything, plus an ala cart offering? I know in restaurants appies are marked up for that.

And if a consumer chose say Hallmark, the cost passed on to him would be higher than taking the whole menu.

BTW, my favorite cable nets are CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, Lifetime and HGTV. Wonder what that would cost on an ala carte menue.


Marianne Paskowski:

I don't think the others are saying they want ala carte. But I am saying that viewers should be able to buy either the whole menu, like they do now, plus have the option to go ala carte if that's what they want.

How anybody would make that work economically is another thing. I didn't even get into how that would ruin the ad sales forecasts, that's another thread.




One small correction: You write, "Pats fans would have thrown another Boston Tea Party if they couldn’t watch this all-important game for their team".

But even if the NFL hadn't caved and allowed the simulcast, hometown Patriot (and Giant) fans would still have been able to watch the game, because the league is required to make all local games available on broadcast channels. (That holds true even for ESPN Monday night games, which here in NY are always run on Channel 9.) However, I believe that secondary markets -- such as, say, Portland ME -- do not have the same right, so people in those areas would not have been able to watch the game without the NFL's last-minute concession. But Boston and NY would have seen it regardless.

Marianne Paskowski:

Thanks for the clarification. I wonder then why Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) felt the need to become involved.


Bradford R. Pilcher:

Senator Kerry and others became involved because the actual fan base versus the geographic market the NFL considers the "home" fan base didn't match up. The Patriots in particular, like most Boston teams, are popular throughout New England. It's why you can visit Maine in the fall and find die-hard Red Sox fans. For them, that is the "home" team, but they're often frozen out of any local airings.

This was also a concern earlier in the year when Major League Baseball attempted to give DirecTV an exclusive deal for their Extra Innings package of out-of-town games, thus freezing out non-DirecTV subscribers from being able to "buy" those games.

The reality of professional sports in this day and age is that blackout rules, the definition of local markets, etc. has not kept pace with the allegiances and locations of fans themselves.

As for ESPN, I'm fully in favor of a la carte, but I'd have to protest anybody asking me to pay more for it when they'd want to keep Lifetime and HGTV on the basic tier. Which one draws more viewers? I'm asking that non-sarcastically... I'd be curious to know.


Marianne Paskowski:


Thanks for the explanation. Bosox fans will travel to Camden Yards, Baltimore, because Fenway is such a hot, rare ticket.

Now, not sure but I'm guessing probably Lifetime draws more viewers, less of a niche, but I watch both. However, HGTV does attract male viewers.


Bradford R. Pilcher:


Perhaps I'll do some research on the ratings figures, though I do know that ESPN routinely shows up in the top 10 cable rated shows both with specific sporting events but also it's flagship SportsCenter program. A quick scan of those show the top-rated shows seem to reflect ESPN, TNT, USA, and some of the family-friendly channels (Disney, ABC Family, Nickelodeon). Not sure how that shakes out in total viewership for the whole network slate or how Lifetime fares in say the top 20.

Nevertheless, I'd have to point out that ESPN draws female viewers as much as HGTV draws male ones. More to the point, I guess I'm curious what the rubric is for you when deciding which cable channels you feel belong on the basic tier versus specific pay tiers. For example, why are sports programs automatically something that should be on a separate (likely more costly) tier when it's clear that sports draw large audiences across gender/age/class lines.

Perhaps a good compromise between our current system and a pure a la carte model would be the ability simply buy packages of channels based on programming at a staged rate per package. The full package of movie and drama-based channels (TNT, FX, USA, etc.) and sports channels (ESPN, NFL Network, etc.) at $20 a pop, and just a few home improvement/design channels at a mere $10 a pop? But leave off the womens interest channels like Lifetime.


Marianne Paskowski:

Don't forget to include CNBC in your matrix, remember that is my top viewing choice.

Bradford R. Pilcher:


I understand CNBC is your top choice, and I'm not trying to single out your picks for a competition with mine on how many people watch one over the other. My concern is really that the current model of blocking out channels (and in the case of sporting events, the specific programming) is simply archaic and bound to tick off people like you and I.

So in truth there really is no good answer why ESPN should stay on a basic tier as opposed to Lifetime or MSNBC (which doesn't make the cut on my cable package while CNN, Fox News, and CNBC do). It's ratings and how much those channels cost to the cable companies. And for the consumer, it's which channels they want to watch. Bridging that kind of divide requires a little work.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that certain channels like Hallmark would suffer if they had to win over subscribers all by their lonesome, but as a consumer I'm only sympathetic up to a point. Given that issue, I'm not expecting a la carte programming anytime soon, at least not on the traditional cable platforms. But I do think it would be doable to package similar-themed channels together and let you pick a few packages, perhaps with two or three "tiers" for each package.

As for specific programming blackouts, that's really a sports issue. I'd be curious how the Long Tail Theory might be applied to the availability of sports programming outside the "local" market. Do you have any thoughts on that?


Marianne Paskowski:

Your question drove me to dig out Kurt Anderson's "The Long Tail" It talks about the plethora of choice and maybe it means here that together, little nets like Hallmark, etal, combined, and there are a lot of them, might be more valuable to a distributor than a blockbuster like ESPN. But that doesn't work for me a consumer.

So unlimited choice, which transformed the music business, in Anderson's world has transformed the Internet, and I guess you can say television.

I say give people choice, but let them pay for what they watch.


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