Comcast, NFL Network still at odds

| Thursday, April 30, 2009

Football fans that subscribe to Comcast may not have access to the NFL Network after today.

The NFL won't renew the contract it has with Comcast unless the country's largest cable provider includes the NFL Network on its basic cable package.

The NFL Network is currently offered by Comcast, which serves an estimated 850,000 people in the Three Rivers region, on a sports tier. Subscribers that want the channel have to pay extra for it.

Comcast and the NFL have been at odds for several years over placement of the NFL Network among Comcast's levels of programming. The resulting impasse could be resolved next month when an administrative law judge offers a recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission on how to resolve the dispute.

The NFL and Comcast had a court hearing April 13 in Washington D.C. The NFL says it is seeking fair treatment for its network.

Comcast has offered to carry the NFL Network on its basic cable package if the NFL charges the same prices for distribution as Versus and The Golf Channel, both of which are owned by Comcast.

The NFL has balked at the offer because its network receives higher ratings than Versus and The Golf Channel.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the first round of this past Saturday's NFL Draft attracted an average of 804,000 viewers on the NFL Network.

The first round of the NHL playoffs on Versus averaged 442,000 fans, according to Nielsen.

"We've been trying to get (the NFL Network) on a more widely distributed level of service," NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said. "That's not happened to the detriment of our fans."

The NFL filed a complaint with the FCC last May alleging that Comcast moved NFL Network to tiered programming in 2007 after the league did not grant Versus the right to air NFL games.

Comcast contends that it moved the network to a different tier because the NFL drastically raised the price for its network when it started broadcasting regular-season games. Comcast spokesman John Demming said the NFL raised the price for its network by "more than 350 percent" after it added the eight-game regular-season package to its programming.

"Comcast wants to carry NFL Network, and we have offered to carry it under the terms of our current affiliation agreement while the litigation that the NFL brought against Comcast continues, but the NFL has not accepted our offer," Demming said. "We believe our proposed extension is in the best interest of our customers and NFL fans so that they can continue to have the same access to the network that they now enjoy."

Masonson said the 300-plus cable companies that carry the NFL Network on "widely distributed tiers" do not think the asking price is too steep.

As for the league's dispute with Comcast, he said, "We are open to negotiating any time so fans can watch the NFL Network on a wide level of service at no extra cost."

Additional Information:

Alternate plans

Comcast subscribers who wish to get the NFL Network can go to to see what options are available to them in their viewing area. The NFL Network's contract with Comcast expires Friday.

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