It’s 11 days until Thanksgiving and neither Time Warner Cable nor Cablevision Systems, representing some 49 million homes, have signed deals to carry the NFL Network. The Wall Street Journal today has an article about the ticking clock, as the fledgling network, owned by the National Football League, will launch a series of weekly live game broadcasts beginning Turkey Day. That means unless the NFL and cable companies come to terms, fans in cities like San Antonio, a Time Warner market, or the New York City area, Cablevision territory, won’t get to watch the Denver Broncos battle the Kansas City Chiefs over a second piece of pumpkin pie. Or will they? Reports the Journal, “Indeed, the league will be counting on those regional fans, those in NFL-less cities as large as Los Angeles and gambling and fantasy aficionados….Much will depend on how angry those fans get, and how much that anger translates into calls to congressional representatives and attorneys general.” But the author forgets that in San Antonio, thanks to statewide video franchise reform in Texas, NFL fans have a choice. So do customers in Cablevision’s New York City markets, where Verizon competes with its FiOS service (not in every suburban municipality, however, because New York State has yet to take up franchising reform). Quick visits over to AT&T’s U-Verse and Verizon’s FiOS sites confirm that the NFL Network is available as part of lower-end channel packages. So consumers in these markets don’t have to spend time navigating the government’s complaint bureaucracy; they can simply change providers. Ain’t that grand? In the past, negotiations between programmers and cable companies could go on at length, as was the case when George Steinbrenner moved his New York Yankees to the Yes Network and then sought a higher fee from Cablevision. My gut tells me that the presence of competition, the cable companies will settle a lot faster, maybe not by Thanksgiving, but before the end of the current season. That’s good for consumers everywhere and another example of how competition and franchise reform improves cable service and value.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.