Super Bowl XXXIX maybe over, but the NFL Network continues to be a formidable player in the cable arena.
Launched 15 months ago, the National Football League-owned network has quickly established itself as a basic-cable and video-on-demand force. In fact, the network sprinted out to the biggest launch in cable history, with 11 million subscribers, and ended its first year claiming the distinction of being the only network ever to reach 20 million subscribers before its first birthday.
NFL Network currently has distribution deals with DirecTV Inc., Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Corp., Bresnan Communications and Adelphia Communications Corp, among others.
NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein crows like the veteran cable salesman that he is when describing the channel’s strategic clout. “The NFL is an elite class of popular and culturally important programming in this country. And we’ve been successful in deploying those assets in a number of different platforms — VOD being one of them and the linear channel being the other,” says Bornstein, who was ESPN’s first chairman and also served as president of ABC Television.
Astonishingly, NFL Network has made such strides without airing one live regular-season NFL game. With a programming mix of highlights from league regular-season games, NFL coaches shows, live preseason contests and other pro footbal-related programming, the network has been able to take advantage of the league’s appeal and leverage to gain a foothold in the multichannel arena.
The NFL Network’s attraction to operators has also been cultivated through it’s extensive VOD service. The robust on-demand offering, which provides next day highlights of each Sunday’s regular-season contests, along with other network original programming, has been a big hit with Comcast and the MSO’s subscribers.
During the regular season, NFL Network’s VOD service delivered millions of views across Comcast’s VOD-enabled footprint. Further, the network is expected to give operators the chance to let local and regional advertisers attach their names to some of the team-specific content and interview segments currently available via its on-demand highlight shows.
“Cable operators are identifying VOD as a powerful differentiator between them and satellite providers, so I think our compelling package of VOD programming has been instrumental in our success,” Bornstein says.
Bornstein says the NFL will continue to boost the content offerings for the NFL Network linear service as well as the VOD service during the upcoming year, which he believes will benefit operators’ ability to sell digital basic and on-demand services to consumers.
The network’s value and profile could receive a major boost in 2006 if it’s able to acquire rights to a package of league regular-season games. The network has been mentioned as a contender to secure rights to Thursday- and Saturday-night games as part of a new cable package currently in negotiations, although league officials would not comment on the matter.