NFL Net Takes Its Case to FCC4/18/2008 8:00 PM Eastern
While teams and fans gear up for next weekend's National Football League draft, the pro football league's in-house network is itself preparing for a very busy off-season.
NFL Network last Thursday said it will file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, accusing Comcast of discriminatory and anti-competitive treatment.
In a statement, NFL Network said it has served Comcast notice of intent to file the FCC complaint within 10 days, in which it will argue that the nation's largest cable operator's decision to place the network on a premium sports tier for its more than 24 million subscribers while keeping other sports channels that it owns on expanded basic tiers amounts to a violation of the 1992 Cable Act.
“Comcast has taken NFL Network away from millions of fans and placed it on a costly sports tier,” NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein said in a statement. “We don't believe that Comcast should charge consumers extra for our network while making sports channels it owns available on a less-costly basis. After months of trying to get Comcast to negotiate fair treatment, we have been forced to turn to the FCC.”
In its forthcoming complaint, NFL Network will argue that Comcast's alleged discrimination “causes serious anti-competitive and anti-consumer harms in the viewing, advertising and programming markets.”
NFL Network officials will also argue that the channel, now in some 31 million homes, produces higher average cable ratings and better individual event telecasts than Comcast-owned Versus or Golf Channel, results that is says belies the operator's claim that the pro football network, which supports America's most popular game, is niche programming that doesn't merit broader distribution.
Elsewhere, NFL Network has received support in the South Carolina legislature, where a bill, the subject of a hearing before the House Public Utilities Subcommittee, states that a cable company has to treat a competitor's channel the same way in which it treats a channel in which it has an ownership stake.
In Illinois, an NFL Network-backed bill would compel cable operators into arbitration in their carriage disputes with networks.
In the booth, NFL Network is in the process of a finding a replacement for often-criticized Bryant Gumbel, who resigned his play-by-play calling duties for its Thursday and Saturday Night Football telecasts.
Whoever succeeds Gumbel in working alongside color analyst Cris Collingsworth will grab the microphone a bit earlier than in NFL Network did in 2006 and 2007, when its game slate kicked off on Thanksgiving night.
This season, NFL Network's first contest kicks off Nov. 6, during the league's 10th week with the Denver Broncos visiting the Cleveland Browns at 8:15 p.m. (ET).
The schedule, which only features one match-up of 2007 playoff teams, the Dec, 18 Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars confrontation, has also been revamped.