Next week’s New York Giants/New England Patriots game could be one of the biggest NFL games of the year: the Giants are trying to make the playoffs, and the Patriots are trying to become the second team ever to win all of its regular season games. The game is already a hit for the league’s own NFL Network, which will broadcast it. MediaWeek (via Bloomberg) reports that the network has more than doubled its ad rates for the game, from $85,000 to $200,000.
Just one problem: most of the country won’t be able to watch. The NFL Network still doesn’t air widely (or at all) on most cable networks, like Comcast (CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (TWC), or Cablevision (CVC), because the network and the cable companies still can’t agree on carriage.
In today’s NY Post, Peter Lauria reports that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter yesterday to Time Warner Cable chief Glenn Britt, proposing a baseball-style, third-party, binding arbitration process to settle their differences. (To recap: The NFL Network wants to be placed on a basic-cable tier, offering a huge audience. But cable companies think it should go on a digital tier, where a self-selecting audience would cover the subscription fees.) TWC’s boss shot back, saying he’d happily air the network on a digital tier for free, or offer the NFL a pay-per-view channel to charge its own fans. Ouch.
We’re upset/amused that these huge companies still can’t iron out their differences, and in the meantime, their subscribers/fans are the ones getting screwed. (Except in New York and Boston, where next week’s game is required to air locally.) But we’re going to side with the cable companies on this one. They’re already under pressure from subscribers (and competing satellite and telcos) to keep rates down. They’re already paying $3 per subscriber, per month, for ESPN. And just when the Feds start pressuring them to keep rates down, the NFL comes along with an 8-game schedule and demands they, too, be carried on a basic tier. The NFL took a gamble when it launched its own network, but they shouldn’t be surprised by the push-back over the rising cost of sports.
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