SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Opinion

NFL Network confronts its own high standards

The much-anticipated NFL Network launched last week, and the evolution of the start-up will be one of the most closely watched stories in sports. We're anxious to see what this launch, like NBA TV, Speed, The Golf Channel and others before it, delivers to viewers — and how it does so.

The league is in position to deliver unfiltered access to the game. But with access comes responsibility.
NFL fans thirst for information, and the league is in the enviable position to deliver on its mantra of unfiltered access to players and personnel. What an opportunity and potential experience this presents for the programmer, viewer and advertiser as we enter into this new era of sports media.

However, with access and distribution come responsibility. Responsibility to and respect for the viewers. We know these league-owned networks will have a PR-friendly perspective, but the moment they present their news and information through a heavy filter, we hope viewers flip the remote. NFL Network's Howard Katz was quoted as saying, "We're not going to go out of our way to break stories, but in order to have any credibility, we'll have to deal with issues as they arise." OK, we don't anticipate reruns of "Playmakers" on the NFL Network, but we trust it won't ignore some of the pressing and controversial issues facing the game, because credibility with viewers is essential to the business success of the network.

The network is still locked in negotiations with a number of operators over carriage, and we are not using this space to comment again on the dispute between operators and programmers. So, while the debate continues over the business model on the league-owned network landscape, we pare it back and look at the potential of these offerings — expert production, never-before-experienced access, state-of-the-art visuals, to go along with objective news and analysis. All while being a "complementary medium" to their business partners. The NFL Network and networks affiliated with other sports and leagues have set high standards. We hope they live up to them.

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