Friday, November 30, 2007

NFL vs. Big Cable = You Lose

You might not have known this, but for us here in Dallas the game was on a local channel, 27, instead of on one of the big networks. Why was that? Well, apparently a spat between the NFL and cable providers over the NFL's "NFL Network" kept the game off the broadcast channels, and off the air at all for anybody in the U.S. who doesn't have satellite:

...when the schedule maker divvied up 2007 games among the league's television partners, it decided the Packers-Cowboys would not go to Fox, the network of the NFC, or the prime-time packages on NBC or ESPN, a trio which anted up $2.41 billion in rights fees this season. Instead, the NFL delivered the game to its own fledgling NFL Network, which will deliver the game to only one-third of the country.

The NFL hoped the promise of a Packers-Cowboys extravaganza in its second season of broadcasting games would ignite a run of viewers demanding their cable carriers offer the network. But a funny thing has happened to the most irresistible force in the sports universe. The NFL has run into an immovable object: big cable carriers.

Time Warner, Dallas' cable provider with more than 2.3 million subscribers across Texas, and Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, have proved to be All-Pro run stoppers.

Along with the likes of fellow cable giants, Cablevision and Charter, they have refused to yield to the league's demands to carry NFL Network on their basic digital tiers. Comcast does offer the network but on a sports tier, a cable no-man's land.

Cable homes in Cowboys-crazed markets across Texas such as San Antonio, Waco and Austin will be shut out. Same for Packers fans in Wisconsin who live outside Green Bay and Milwaukee.

What does this come down to? Money. The NFL Network wants to charge cable providers about 70 cents extra for each home to carry their network, a charge that cable providers neither wish to absorb nor pass on to their customers (many of whom aren't going to want to pay for the channel anyway, which I presume would only be offered on pricier cable packages.) And the big cable providers say there's no big clamor to provide the NFL Network.

And while at first I thought this was just a greedy fight over money, having watched the NFL Network broadcast free a la Ch. 27, I have to side with the cable providers. The broadcast was awful. Awful commentary, awful sideline antics, awful self-promotion...even the commercials the NFL Network showed for itself were awful (two guys in a bar arguing over whether they could catch Devin Hester? Seriously?) I came close to turning down the sound and turning up the radio, and only the inevitable gap between picture and sound that I hate stopped me. Nobody should have to pay anything extra for that; the NFL Network ought to be paying people to watch it.

As for why the game was on a local channel for those of us lucky enough to live in DFW? Well, the chair of the NFL Network is Jerry Jones, who probably did not relish the thought of tens of thousands of local fans descending on the stadium with torches to burn it down (with him in it) because they couldn't see the game.

Anyway, thanks but no thanks NFL Network. Take a look at how the big boys do it and get back to us. In the meantime, I'm going to write my cable provider and urge them NOT to pick you up.

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