NFL Waves the White Flag in Cable Dispute

Last Saturday night’s game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, which saw the Pats battle back from a 12-point deficit to achieve a perfect 16-0 season record, drew 34.5 million viewers, according to Nielson estimates, making it the most watched regular season pro football contest since 1995. Viewership got its biggest boost from a late decision by the NFL to allow CBS and NBC to simulcast its feed from the NFL Network. Those following the issue recall that the NFL originally had reserved this game for exclusive broadcast on the league-owned NFL Network. Problem was the league hit negotiation snags with the two of the largest U.S. cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, over how the channel would be carried on their systems. Comcast placed the channel on a higher-priced tier of all-sports channels, not on its “expanded basic” tier as the NFL wanted. Expanded basic is the standard 80-to-100 channel line-up that includes ESPN, Discovery Channel, Turner Classic Movies, History Channel and such. A similar dispute kept the NFL and Time Warner from reaching any deal. Therefore the NFL Network was not available to Time Warner customers.