Charter Hands the Ball to NFL Network

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The NFL Network finally hit paydirt with the MSO community, striking a digital-carriage deal with Charter Communications Inc. last Thursday.

Charter, which counts almost 2.7 million digital homes among its base of 6.4 million subscribers, DirecTV Inc. on the National Football League channel's affiliate roster.

Sources close to the deal said Charter is paying about 20 cents per month for the channel, which will also provide Charter with a separate HDTV simulcast feed beginning with the 2004 football season, a customized video-on-demand package affording access to the NFL Films archives and extended highlights of each league regular-season contest.

The Charter pact calls largely for placement on the MSO's "digital-basic" platform, with the rollout kicking off in February.

MSO spokesman David Mack said NFL Network would be deployed on digital over time.

"This is not a flash cut. In the great majority of our markets digital is positioned by genre," he said, noting that Charter proffers sports tiers that house ESPN Classic and ESPN News, as well as Fox Sports Net regionals.

Adam Shaw, senior vice president of distribution at NFL Network, said the deal offers Charter flexibility to position the service, whether on "digital basic, analog, sports tier. We'll see. I'm not sure they know exactly at this point."

Shaw trumpeted the VOD and HD aspects of the agreement as drivers for Charter to expand its position in those arenas.

Shaw noted negotiations continue with other distributors. "A number are close, but none are imminent," he said.

Elsewhere, Rainbow DBS said Thursday that its Voom direct-broadcast satellite service has added NFL Network to a roster that now includes 30 HD channels.

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