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NFL Network Gets Ready to Rumble

Nov 2, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The NFL Network is ready for some football.
After spending much of its energy battling cable operators for carriage, the NFL Network is hitting the sweet spots of its year this week, when it begins to air its slate of eight regular-season football games.

Tennessee Titans running back LenDale White

GOAL-ORIENTED NFL Network is looking to rebuild its subscriber base.

“This is where it gets exciting,” said Kim Williams, chief operating officer of the NFL Network. “We talk about the games throughout the season, but it’s a whole ’nother ballgame when you actually air the ballgame.”
This season, NFL Network is starting earlier than it did last year, when its debut game telecast took place on Thanksgiving Day.
The new schedule “extends our season,” Ms. Williams said.
All but one of the games it televises will be on Thursdays. Last season, three were on Saturday nights.
“This allows us to build some habit in terms of tuning in for Thursday night football,” Ms. Williams said. “It’s hard to teach audiences to start tuning into football on different nights.”
Although Thursdays are competitive—think “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI”—it’s a big night for both viewers and advertisers, she said.
Ms. Williams added that because the games are broadcast by local stations in the competing teams’ home markets, the network gets added exposure in those markets—which is important in those where NFL Network gets no carriage from operators like Time Warner Cable or limited coverage from operators like Comcast, which has the network on a higher-priced sports tier.
The NFL Network’s distribution peaked at 44.1 million last year before Comcast downgraded the network, leaving it in about 40 million homes. NFL Network has been adding subscribers and was back at 42 million homes by the end of the summer, according to the network.
The inability of many viewers to watch games on NFL Network has led to consumer frustration, congressional ire and a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. NFL Network charged that cable operators were discriminating against an independent channel and retaliating because Comcast had attempted to acquire the eight-game package and put it on its own channel.
Last week, 12 U.S. senators, including Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell complaining that the league was not allowing enough fans to see games when they air on NFL Network.
“This is a step toward pay television. And it’s a step toward compelling people to get the NFL channel,” Mr. Specter told the New York Times.
Last season NFL Network was pressured into allowing its last game of the year, with the New England Patriots looking to go undefeated, to be simulcast by CBS and NBC in order to let more people see it.
“We are disappointed that, rather than building on this success, the NFL will return to restricting games,” the senators’ letter said.
The NFL responded with a statement saying, “The goal of our NFL Network games is to show games to a national audience.
“However, that goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators,” the league said. “The Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau earlier this month ruled that we indeed had demonstrated that our discrimination charge had merit and rejected the arguments of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator based in Pennsylvania. The FCC Bureau also found merit in our complaint that Comcast retaliated against NFL Network, thereby also punishing consumers.”
Ms. Williams said getting into a battle at the FCC with Comcast and other operators isn’t the league’s first choice.
“We’re in the business of conducting business with our partners, not necessarily filing FCC complaints against them,” she said. “But it got to a point where it was hard to ignore.”
Ms. Williams said carriage talks with operators are ongoing and that she is hopeful.
As the network gets closer to airing live games, which draw huge interest among subscribers, “Those discussions tend to happen a little more frequently, and maybe with a little more seriousness.”
Distribution talk sometime overshadows the NFL Network’s programming.
“Despite the fact that we may be available in fewer homes, more and more people are tuning in and they’re tuning for longer periods of time and they’re tuning in more often,” Ms. Williams said. “That’s a metric that’s pretty important to me. Despite what might be happening on the distribution front, the people who do find us, like us, stay and visit us more often, which kind of supports the theory that it’s content that people want to see.”
During this season’s games. Bob Papa will handle the play-by-play, replacing Bryant Gumbel. Cris Collinsworth is the analyst.
A three-hour pregame show, “NFL Total Access on Location,” is on tap to follow “Team Cam,” a show that relies on cameras posted with all 28 NFL teams.
This season, NFL Network decided to invest in its Sunday programming, launching “NFL GameDay Morning,” which airs live Sundays at 10 a.m. ET. The show is hosted by Spero Dedes and features former All-Pros Marshall Faulk and Warren Sapp as analysts and correspondent Adam Schefter.
“NFL GameDay Final” airs after the final gun on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”
In October, the network’s average household impressions were up 21% on Sundays from a year ago. Overall, total-day impressions are up 3% and prime-time impressions were up 10% in October.

12 Comments

  1. The NFL Network is wrong for believing that this is about discrimination. It is simply about the NFL Networks greed for money.
    The NFL Networks contract, which allows cable companies to carry the network, basically dictates that a cable company has to carry the NFL Network and pass 80% of their subscriber base company wide and that the channel has to be in an analog lineup when most cable companies are trying to place any new channels in a digital tier.
    And guess what . . . The NFL Network charges around $.90 a subscriber per month. I am sure most cable companies would love to add NFL Network to their digital lineup and only have those customers that want to receive it, pay for it. If the NFL gets placed in an analog lineup then cable companies are forced to pass the $.90 a subcriber increase on to cable consumers, even the ones that don’t care about receiving the NFL Network.
    Plus the rates for NFL Network are supposed to increase over the next 5 years to something like $1.20 per subscriber.
    According to the FCC 13th Annual Report over video competition, there are 95.8 million households that receive video services and that cable TV has 68.2 % of the 95.8 million which means there are 65.3 million cable subscribers in the United States. Even if one assumes that most cable companies offer a Basic Cable Lifeline service and that this passes about 10% of the subscriber base that still leaves about 58.8 million subscribers taking the expanded basic analog service. Also, lets assume that only 80% of the 58.8 million actually receives NFL. That leaves 47 million customers that receives the NFL Network.
    So this is where the greed comes into play. You do the math: 58.8 million X .90 a sub per month = $42.3 million per month times 12 months = $507.6 million a year that the NFL Network has the potential to make. Obviously, if you can force the major cable companies to take the NFL Network and place the channel in the analog expanded basic to pass 80% of your subscriber base the NFL Network stands to make a lot of money.
    If the NFL Network allowed cable companies to place the channel in a digital tier where only those customers that wanted to receive and pay for the NFL Network did so, then I am certain that most cable companies would be more than willing to do so. The cable companies are trying to save customers money by making only those customers that want to receive the NFL Network pay for it.

  2. In the “You do the math” section it should read 47 million X .90 a sub per month = $42.3 million per month times . . . Sorry, it won’t let me edit once I post.

  3. Anyone know is the games will be broadcast on their website again like last season?
    JOE

  4. Ummm Libel… No….
    Comcast dropped the network from its digital basic tier after the NFL decided not to sell a package of eight regular season games to Comcast. The NFL decided to keep the games and put them on their channel to make that channel more attractive. Comcast was angry about this, so this is the issue. I remember when it first came out, the NFL network was part of the regular TV line-up. Why is Oxygen free? Lifetime? There are a lot of channels I do not watch, why do I have to pay for them?

  5. FORGET THE MONEY!!!! IF YOU ARE BIDDING TO SHOW THE GAME AND YOUR CABLE NETWORK HAS THE NFL NETWORK THE GAME SHOULD NOT BE BLOCKED AS IT WAS ON 12-18-O8 COLTS VS JAGUARS.THEY BID THOSE GAMES FOR A PRICE.THEY SHOULD SHOW THE GAMES.IF THEY DO NOT SHOW THE GAME THAT THEY BIDDED TO COVER THEY SHOULD N O T BE ALLOWED TO BID FOR GAMES PERIOD. I DO NOT CARE IF IT IS ABC CBS ESPN NFLN OR PBS FOR PETES SAKE.

  6. I cant wait for Monday Night Football; they always seem to have some great matchups on Monday. Have you looked at the 2010 nfl season schedule yet? Do you have your pick to win the superbowl yet?

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