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Outlook Dim for NFL Network, MSOs

NFL Network will kick off coverage of its first live National Football League game Thanksgiving night, but subscribers to Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems are expected to be shut out from the contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.

At press time Wednesday afternoon, all indications were that the parties would not bridge the gaps in their entrenched stands over placement (the network wants analog or digital basic carriage, while operators advocate tier positioning) and cost (about a 70-cent monthly subscriber fee) for the NFL’s in-house channel.

According to a spokesman, NFL Network did not execute a local last-minute advertising blitz against cable operators not carrying the network. It did run an ad in USA Today Wednesday taking a shot at cable operators and touting the games’ availability on DirecTV.

Meanwhile, American Cable Association CEO Matt Polka faxed a pre-Turkey Day missive to NFL Network head Steve Bornstein requesting a change in the service’s game plan.

“Currently, your network allows big cable companies like Comcast and Cox to offer the NFL Network in a variety of tiers and packages to consumers in urban areas such as Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Phoenix; and Atlanta,” the letter said in part.

“At the same time, NFL Network is refusing to allow the same flexibility to ACA member companies and their customers in areas like Wyandotte, Mich.; Altoona, Pa.; and Wilmington, Vt.,” the letter continued. “Your network's actions to tie independent cable operators’ hands and require carriage of your expensive service only on analog or digital basic forces cable consumers to bear the cost of a service that not all consumers want. On behalf of ACA’s nearly 8 million customers served by its more than 1,000 members, I write to request that the NFL Network change this discriminatory and anti-consumer policy. If the NFL Network is as popular as you say, then give consumers the choice.”

The letter was CCed to all NFL teams and owners, the Federal Communications Commission’s members and many prominent members of Congress.

"While the NFL Network games will be carried by a large number of cable companies, we unfortunately are involved in a commercial dispute with specific cable operators that are acting in their own self-interests -- not in the interests of our NFL fans,” NFL Network said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to discuss the matter with those cable operators in the hope that the problem can be resolved.”