Comcast Eyes More Team Channels

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Comcast Corp., having recently kicked off an on-demand channel devoted to the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, is assessing other team-related content game plans.

Available to Comcast digital subscribers under the NFL Network on Demand umbrella, “Patriots on Demand” debuted Oct. 13, with programming options that include highlights, locker room interviews, coach Bill Belichick’s press conferences in their entirety, various shoulder programming like Patriots All Access, Totally Patriots and Patriots Football Weekly and some archival footage of team events.

Last year, the National Football League tackled efforts by distributors to launch linear-TV channels like Comcast did with FalconsVision (Atlanta Falcons) and Cowboys- Vision (Dallas Cowboys).

OTHERS COULD FOLLOW

Mike Sheehey, senior vice president of sports content at Comcast, said the nation’s largest MSO, would consider launching similar “niche” channels around professional sports teams in markets where there are “strong levels of interest.”

An NFL Network spokesman said other virtual channels are on the way, but would not specify a team or an MSO partner.

Sheehey also declined to say if any launches were imminent. When asked specifically about the hometown National Basketball Association Philadelphia 76ers (which Comcast owns) and the National Hockey League Philadelphia Flyers, Sheehey said those were “possibilities.”

Back in New England, Patriots on Demand is benefiting from a multimedia advertising campaign, featuring linebacker Tedy Bruschi, which encompassed direct-mail, radio and TV elements.

“The addition of this exciting and exclusive access to the New England Patriots will further enhance the overall football experience for Comcast digital-cable customers,” Kevin Casey, senior vice president of Comcast New England, said in a statement. “Patriots On Demand is just one more example of our commitment to providing additional value to our customers at no additional cost.”

Patriots on Demand is available to Comcast New England digital customers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to a spokesman.

Last November, the NFL issued a moratorium against dedicated team linear channels. At the time, there was buzz about the possible launch of services for the league’s San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchises.

While FalconsVision continues to live on as a 24/7 network, the Cowboys service has morphed into a “robust VOD offering through NFL Network this season,” said Sheehey.

He said that rather than devoting a linear network with six hours of content that were repeated throughout the day, the content is now available on demand to Comcast digital customers in the Dallas DMA. CowboysVision launched during the club’s 2004 training camp, according to Sheehey.

For its part, FalconsVision continues to operate as a linear service. Sheehey noted that the network had a four-year contract in place before the NFL moratorium.

“We’re in the third year of our contract,” he said, noting that in addition to press conferences and locker room insights, the service provides “MTV Cribs-style profiles of some of the Falcons’s residences. The network is currently shooting a show around a dating contest with fullback Justin Griffith.

FalconsVision goes dark during the offseason.

BRAVESVISION DONE FOR YEAR

Comcast and Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves recently put the scorecard away on the first full season of their HD diginet venture BravesVision. Tested late in the 2004 campaign, the service is available to digital subscribers in the Atlanta DMA channel 755 — honoring former Braves star Hank Aaron’s all-time home run mark — and provides batting practice coverage and other in-stadium features, as well as simulcasts of Clear Channel Radio’s pre and post-game coverage from WGST 640AM.

The network also runs encores of games shot in HD carried on regional network Turner South, which like the ballclub, is owned by Time Warner Inc.

The channel, which shut down after the Braves lost the National League Division Series to the Houston Astros, will return during next year’s spring training.

Sheehey said both FalconsVision and BravesVision are available to Comcast’s 350,000 or so digital customers in the Atlanta area, where it has some 750,000 subscribers overall.

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