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It is a new chapter in the tumultuous history of the NFL Network. Cable provider Comcast Corp. and the NFL finally reached an agreement this week, but it may not be an ultimate resolution to their long dispute over the NFL Network. The conflict between the two parties began when Comcast placed the NFL Network on a sports programming tier, which required an extra fee and had limited viewership. Since the NFL airs some regular-season games on the Network, it wanted the increased exposure that placement on the basic cable programming tier would provide. Comcast, on the other hand, wanted a lower price for the NFL Network, which it viewed as having limited original programming. This fundamental disagreement was the basis for litigation, governmental inquiries, and even negative public relations campaigns.
The contract between Comcast and the NFL expired on May 1, 2009, which appears to have increased the pressure on both sides and motivated them to reach the new agreement on Tuesday. Under the new agreement, the NFL Network will once again be available on Comcast, but it continues to be absent from the basic cable lineup. Instead, the Network will be part of Comcast’s Digital Classic programming tier, which has around 10 million subscribers (or about 400% more than the NFL Network’s former programming tier).
Throughout its dispute with Comcast, the NFL has been adamant that it wants the Network included on basic cable. It is unknown whether the Digital Classic tier will satisfy the NFL long-term. Although both parties are touting reconciliation publicly, this newfound harmony may not last forever. The long, bitter dispute between Comcast and the NFL likely established some ill will on both sides that may not be completely extinguished by their recent agreement. Nevertheless, the recent agreement does represent signs of progress and an indication that such a solution could come sooner rather than later. Most importantly, the NFL agreed to lower its asking price for the Network, a major sticking point in the dispute, from 70 cents per subscriber to 40 or 45 cents. In return, Comcast has given the NFL Network access to millions more cable subscribers. Indeed, Tuesday’s agreement signals progress in the NFL Network drama–not to mention good news for football fans–but only time will tell whether it is the final word.
– Ethan Flatt
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