Charter Communications has signed a long-term pact with NFL Network for carriage of the pro football league's 24/7 channel, as well as its ad hoc scoring and highlights service, NFL RedZone.
The MSO will launch NFL Network throughout its footprint in the weeks ahead, while RedZone will be in place for Sept. 11, the first full Sunday of the upcoming campaign.
This marks the second sports network deal for Charter over the past few days. On July 29, the MSO signed an agreementl for expanded BTN coverage in the state of Nebraska, the rollout of the channel into other service areas and authenticated rights.
NFL Network, which kicks off its eight-game primetime slate on Nov. 10 with coverage of the Oakland Raiders visiting the San Diego Chargers, will be available to Charter customers via its Digital View Plus package and in the high-definition format. For its part, NFL RedZone will be positioned on Charter's sports tiers.
Terms of the deal, which also encompass video-on-demand fare and future authenticated content rights, were not disclosed.
With the agreement, Charter -- which had carried NFL Network when it launched in 2003 before its initial contract lapsed -- returns to the pro football league's in-house service, boosting its subscriber count to 60 million from 57 million, according to NFL Network vice president of affiliate distribution John Malkin.
"We're very excited to bring NFL Network and NFL RedZone to Charter customers during the 2011 season," said Malkin. "We look forward to a long and beneficial relationship with Charter."
The affiliation deal closes a significant hole in NFL Network's distribution line and gives it carriage with seven of the nation's top 10 video providers -- Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Bright House Networks remain the holdouts.
Asked about distribution prospects with those providers, Malkin would only say: "We've done deals with NCTC, Cox and now with Charter. We're always looking at ways to gain more distribution for NFL Network and NFL RedZone."
Malkin and Charter senior vice president of programming Allan Singer said negotiations began in late winter, during what Singer called the "early and some of the darkest days" of the just-resolved NFL lockout.
"We knew we would get a deal done, pendent upon the resolution of the labor dispute," said Singer, who noted that the "NFL becomes more and popular every year. It's now a 365-day event and fans and our customers want to keep on top of the action with NFL Network."
Singer also gave high marks to NFL RedZone. "Football fans have been very pleased with the channel and its presentation," he said. "I don't know that there has been a clamor for RedZone, but our subscribers' reaction to the return of football, is what we expected. They are very excited about watching the NFL."
NFL Network's VOD offering will also be accessible by Charter customers.
"There is plenty of in-season programming and access to NFL Films vast library," said Malkin of package that includes 10-minute condensed versions of all games, highlights of all the prior week's best plays and various themed assets. "VOD has proven to be popular with cable subscribers both during the season and the rest of the year."
Singer said Charter, which is headquartered in St. Louis, has also expanded an extant relationship with the hometown Rams. "We're going to be doing a number of things with the team, there will be lots of activities," he said.
On the authenticated side of the "TV Everywhere" line, NFL Network is looking to make content available to Charter and other affiliates sometime in the future.
Devices and launch dates have not been finalized, according to NFL Network officials.