Comcast, NFL Network Get Ugly

By now, you’ve probably heard that the NFL Network will no longer be available to Comcast subscribers after April 30th. Their contract to carry the network expires at that time, and though they’ve offered to keep carrying the network under the terms of the current contract (offering it as part of a slight more expensive sports tier) the NFL does not want this, and will not allow Comcast to carry NFLN under those terms.

Chad Finn has a story on the situation in this morning’s Globe.

This is just the latest round in a series of salvos between the two sides. Recently NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein and Comcast VP David L. Cohen went head-to-head in a pair of Opinion columns in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Each side made their case clear. Bornstein notes that:

Based on fan interest, NFL Network should be broadly available to cable subscribers. Comcast, however, wants to continue to limit access to the network by charging consumers extra for it. Comcast collects this extra charge to provide NFL Network as part of its sports package.

We strongly disagree with this policy. But Comcast refuses to reach a new agreement with NFL Network that would make it available to a larger number of subscribers without the extra monthly fee.

Comcast discriminates against networks such as ours because we are independent. Do you know why you get the Golf Channel and Versus as part of your basic cable service? It’s because both are owned by Comcast, which makes the company’s channels broadly available.

Do you wonder why the recently launched MLB Network is, unlike its football counterpart, broadly available to fans without an extra monthly fee? Once again, the answer is that Comcast has an ownership interest in the MLB Network.

Cohen counters by claiming that:

NFL Network provides only eight live, regular-season, out-of-market games a year. The vast majority of the network’s programming is filler such as training-camp coverage and draft analysis, which may interest the super-fan, but not most cable customers. And yet the network wants to charge higher fees than virtually any other national cable network.

So which side is in the right?

NFLN’s point about VERSUS, Golf Channel and MLB Network is a valid one. It’s hard to see how Comcast can justify putting those channels on basic, yet denying the NFL Network. The fact that they are partners with those first three networks smacks of duplicity. Cohen himself states that the NFL is “the most sophisticated, lucrative, and powerful professional sports enterprise in the world.”

He then makes the above statement about the limited games available on NFLN and the “filler” programming, which he claims is only of interest to “super-fans.” This statement is disingenuous at best. The NFLN does broadcast only the eight live regular season games, but the rest of the programming is not analysis and boring “filler.” They show dozens of preseason games, they do replays of the top NFL games each week, plus show classic games. They have series such as the acclaimed America’s Game Super Bowl series. The older NFL Films material is also entertaining. These items are of interest to more people than just the “super-fan.”

Does Comcast think that networks like VERSUS and Golf don’t have plenty of so-called “filler” programming? How about regular specialty channels, like Food Network, the Travel Channel or Animal Planet? You don’t get just “filler” you get infomercials, which I’ve never seen on the NFLN.

But is the NFL taking too hard of a stance? Is it that much of a hardship for NFL fans to pay the extra amount for the sports tier? Last time I checked, it was between $5-10 per month for the package that included NFLN. What type of fees is the NFL demanding from Comcast? Is it really out of line with what the other networks charge?

As a Satellite TV subscriber, I don’t have this issue, but I was a long-time Comcast subscriber, and I’d be pretty annoyed come May 1st if the NFL Network was no longer an option.

Also see:

MLB Network Hits a Home Run: How baseball learned from football’s mistake and pulled off the biggest cable launch ever.

Cable Sports Nets Pay More To Play

  • Mike H

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I have Comcast and don’t get the MLB Network, so I think that argument can be thrown out.

    • Ben

      The MLB Network is standard on one level of Comcast’s Digital Packages

    • media-tor

      MLBN is on the digital basic tier in MA but NFLN is not. That may not be the case in all states, though.

  • Patrick

    I have Comcast and MLB is on the same sports tier as NFL.

  • Lance

    Cohen has got to be the biggest wanker in a heavy wanker infested business: “…which may interest the super-fan, but not most cable customers.”

    I’m glad to know most Comcast basic cable customers are interested in multiple shopping shows (in hi-def no less) and ultra-religious channels. They also have multiple PBS channels in hi-def and channels which clearly have 2-3 people watching at one time – but they cost little to produce. Yep, when Comcast gives you the option of getting 1000 hi def channels they’re no kidding. But the NFL on basic IS going way too far.

    RCN has the NFL network on their basic – no hassles and you’re not paying for lobbying fees to Arlon Spector. Much better if it’s an option.

  • Stephen H.

    Comcast (as any other cable provider) is required by law to broadcast almost any “local television station” within at least 40 miles. In Seabrook, N.H., for example, where I used to live, we’d receive WCVB/WMUR, WHDH/Ch. 6 in Portland, and PBS Boston/Durham/Portland. Most of the shopping channels (except QVC and HSN) broadcast from “local channels” to skirt this policy and force themselves on cable packages.

    I’m a football fan, but even the list of things on the NFL Network near the end of the post, in most cases, borders too closely towards the “super-fan,” and as a current resident of Indiana, with Comcast and no NFL Network (I only have the standard digital package), I have not missed it since its inception.