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RCN Calls For Penalty On NFL Network Simulcast

While the NFL was ironing out contract issues with three local stations that had broadcast rights for the big primetime game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants on Dec. 29, at least one NFL Network affiliate expressed unhappiness that the contest is being simulcast nationally by NBC and CBS.

RCN late Friday afternoon said the NFL’s Dec. 26 announcement that CBS and NBC would team with the NFL Network on a national simulcast Saturday night of the potentially historic contest -- New England is looking to maintain its perfect record and ultimately join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the league’s only undefeated championship squad -- devalues its contract with the league’s in-house service.

“This action by the NFL Network seriously devalues the contract between us and we are considering our options. We paid extra for the right to carry this historic game as well as the other games throughout the season,” said RCN senior vice president, strategic and external affairs Richard Ramlall in a statement.

“In effect, the NFL Network is making RCN customers pay extra for what others are getting for free,” Ramlall continued. “It's unprecedented that the NFL Network has decided to alter a signed contract without negotiation or consideration of the other parties. If this decision was subject to an instant replay call, it would be overturned as a grievous foul of the rules.”

As of mid-afternoon Friday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he was unaware of dissatisfaction among NFL Network affiliates over the simulcast and if any were seeking a rebate or other form of compensation because the game was being more widely distributed. If that were the case, he said, those discussions would “take place privately with our TV partners.”

Evidently bowing to pressure from Washington and not wanting to deny its fan base a chance to see the Patriots’ quest, the league announced on Wednesday its plans for the first three-network simulcast of an NFL game.

Otherwise, this marquee match-up would have only been available nationally to the NFL Network’s 43 million residential customers and the commercial establishments that subscribe to it. Although the NFL Network counts 240 affiliates, including DirecTV, Dish Network and Verizon’s FiOS TV, the channel has been unable to crack the distribution lineups of Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp., and Suddenlink Communications, among others.

Those carriers have balked at the notion that the network’s primary calling card of eight primetime regular-season games warrants a monthly subscriber license fee of 70 cents and digital-basic positioning. They maintain the service belongs on a sports tier, which is where Comcast migrated the network, following a favorable court ruling last May.

On Friday afternoon, the NFL reached an accord with WWOR/My9 in New York and was working toward a resolution with WCVB-TV in Boston and WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., the stations that had secured exclusive broadcast rights in the home markets of the Giants and Patriots, before CBS and NBC entered the distribution huddle.

The stations will carry the game, but it was unclear what, if any compensation, they would receive, as NBC and CBS affiliates serving those markets will also televise the tilt. 

A spokeswoman for WCVB-TV said Friday evening that the station would televise the game and was still working toward resolving issues with the NFL Network over additional coverage rights.