SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Media

NFL in talks with Time Warner Cable about carriage for NFL Network and NFL RedZone

The NFL is talking with Time Warner Cable about NFL Network and NFL RedZone carriage, but sources say the two sides are no closer to a deal than they were a year ago.

The league has not had substantive talks with Cablevision recently, increasing the possibility that NFL Network will endure another season with significant distribution holes in major markets, including New York and Los Angeles.

Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are NFL Network’s two biggest cable holdouts. Time Warner Cable is the country’s fourth-biggest distributor, with more than 12 million subscribers; Cablevision is ninth, with more than 3.3 million.

There had been some optimism that the NFL finally would cut a deal with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision after a whirlwind summer that saw the league break a years-long logjam and sign deals with Charter and Mediacom.

With the addition of Charter, NFL Network could claim seven of the top eight distributors, including DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon and AT&T. At a cost of 81 cents a subscriber a month, according to SNL Financial, NFL Network is in nearly 57 million homes.

The league’s optimism for finally working out a Time Warner Cable agreement came from a couple concessions it made in order to cut a deal with Charter, according to sources. The league relaxed its demand to be placed on Charter’s biggest digital tier, Digital View. Instead, it accepted carriage on Charter’s Digital View Plus tier, which is subscribed to by roughly 25 to 30 percent of Charter’s homes, sources said.

The deal also contains some TV Everywhere components, allowing Charter to make NFL Network available via broadband and tablets to authenticated subscribers as part of its deal. These rights have become part of standard cable industry clauses, but ones that the NFL had been fighting in recent years.

Cable operators have been outspoken about paying for TV rights, broadband rights and mobile rights in one bundle, as part of the industry’s TV Everywhere initiative.

A potential hiccup came from the NFL’s exclusive four-year, $720 million wireless deal with Verizon Wireless that was signed in March 2010. That deal, which streams content to mobile phones, pertains only to cell phones, not tablets. Charter’s deal potentially allows it to stream the channel to authenticated subscribers using tablets, sources say.

Sources also said the league’s decision to make RedZone Channel available to sports tiers also helped finalize the Charter and Mediacom deals.

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