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cablewithaview
08-03-2006, 09:59 PM
The NFL has started playing hardball with Charter Communications.

A simmering contractual impasse between the league and the Madison area's cable company over carriage of the NFL Network heated up over the weekend when the NFL began running ads slamming Charter.

"Don't let Charter ruin your football season," the ads state. "You'll miss NFL games. Call and demand NFL Network now."

The league is running the ads in markets where it hasn't reached carriage deals with the cable companies serving those markets. The NFL does have deals with cable giants Comcast and Cox, but not with Charter and Time Warner. The NFL also has deals with satellite providers DirecTV and DISH Network and Internet TV providers Verizon and AT&T.

NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said the league hopes Charter will "wise up" when customers start calling.

"If that fails to work we'll let them know that we're also available on DirecTV, DISH Network, Verizon and AT&T in those markets," Palansky said. "There's all sorts of tactics being discussed. Anything that will help solve this impasse or at least let our fans know there are other options and they don't have to be beholden to the cable company."

Although NFL Network's package of Thursday and Saturday night regular season games doesn't start until Thanksgiving, Palansky said it's not too early to step up the pressure.

"We're covering 14 hours from the Hall of Fame this weekend including the induction ceremonies live," he said. "We're carrying a Green Bay Packers scrimmage this weekend and their family night, which is very important to that market and Packers fans across the country. And then we're into the preseason. This is the time our fans are thinking about football again. And it's time that they should have NFL Network."

Ironically, Charter was the first major cable company to carry the NFL Network in January 2004 - on its digital sports tier, which costs extra.

But the contractual dispute led to the removal of the NFL Network last December, shortly before the NFL announced that some regular season games would be shown on the channel, including the Green Bay-Minnesota game on Dec. 21 that could be Brett Favre's final home game. (Madison is not considered a Packers home market by the NFL so that game can't be offered to local broadcast channels as it will be in Green Bay and Milwaukee.)

The dispute centers around the league's demand that NFL Network be carried on packages like Charter's expanded basic that don't cost extra, rather than digital tiers.

Palansky said it's not a matter of how much more per subscriber the NFL wants to charge compared to what it charged in prior years. Multichannel News reported earlier this year that the NFL was demanding more than double its prior fees.

"Charter wants to charge its customers more for our channel and we're opposed to that," he said. "We think they're charging enough as it is. And so we refuse to make a deal with them that has charges being passed along to customers."

Palansky said Charter can make money on the deal by selling ad time the NFL Network provides to its carriers.

"Charter is a little lazy in that regard," he said. "It's easier for them to charge their cable customer more. They're trying to prey on NFL fans' passion and think they can charge more and make more money. We're saying no. We've always made our games available to a wide audience and that should continue."

For example, Palansky said, DISH Network charges $29.99 for its expanded basic equivalent that includes the NFL Network, "and they make the economics work by selling ads like they're allowed to."

Negotiations with Charter are going "absolutely nowhere," Palansky said.

Charter declined to comment in detail on the ads or the negotiations.

"Charter is counting on sitting down with the folks at NFL Network in the near future to talk about things more important to our customers than the network's ads, like keeping programming costs lower for our customers who are not fans of football," the company said in a statement. "We prefer to stay focused and talk about what's good for our customers rather than the ads."

Barry Orton, a UW-Madison professor of telecommunications who advises many communities in their dealings with cable companies, said Charter could lose customers if it doesn't reach a deal.

"What are all the hardcore NFL fans going to do?" Orton said. "It's one thing (Charter) could do to push customers to get a (satellite) dish."

Meanwhile, Bob Pinter, government relations administrator for Charter in southern Wisconsin, reported no new developments in two other sports-related situations involving the company:

Charter still has no deal with Sinclair Broadcasting to pass through high-definition broadcasts, which include Packers games on Fox47. Sinclair wants Charter to pay for the pass-through, which no other networks have asked for.

Charter has no carriage deal with the new Big Ten Channel, which is scheduled to debut in the fall of 2007 and could carry some Wisconsin football and men's basketball games. Like with the NFL Network, expanded basic vs. digital reportedly is a key issue.

http://www.madison.com/tct/business/index.php?ntid=93155&ntpid=0

Reigster at SatelliteGuys