Dish Sacks NFL Net - Multichannel

Dish Sacks NFL Net

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NFL Network has been sacked again, as it tries to maneuver for more distribution.

Dish Network dropped the National Football League's in-house channel from its “America's Top 100” Package, moving it to the “America's Top 200” package as of Feb. 20.

That means NFL Network has lost about 4 million subscribers. The America's Top 100 Package reaches an estimated 12 million Dish subscribers, versus 8 million for America's Top 200. That reduces the number of households NFL Network now reaches to 31 million.

NFL Network last year absorbed another major hit when Comcast, backed by a judge's ruling, migrated the service to a sports tier, resulting in about 8 million lost subscribers.

NFL Network is now positioned on channel 154 on Dish Network's America's Top 200 package.

“We are aware of Dish's unfortunate decision, which is not in the best interest of its many subscribers who are football fans, especially this week with NFL Network's exclusive coverage of the scouting combine featuring incoming college players from all over the country,” said Dan Masonson, the NFL's director of corporate communications.

Dish Network officials declined to comment.

However, in a note titled “NFL Network Free Preview Ending” — posted by Dish to its retailers' Web site — the satellite service said: “NFL Network is moving out of Free Preview into America's Top 200 package, effective Wednesday, February 20th, 2008.”

Despite public and often strident remarks in the media and attempts to gain footing for its cause on Capitol Hill, NFL Network could not gain carriage traction with Time Warner Cable, Comcast and other cable operators during the 2007 football season.

The distribution disconnect came over the league's push to put its network on its affiliates' expanded basic tier and charge a year-round license fee of about 70 cents per subscriber, per month. Distributors felt that was a high price to pay for eight live games a year.

Elsewhere, The mtn., the Mountain West Conference network owned by Comcast and CBS College Sports, at press time was nearing a deal for carriage by DirecTV.

Hayne Ellis, a spokesman for The mtn., said an agreement in principle has been struck for national distribution, but declined to elaborate. The contract could be signed as soon as today.

Comcast and DirecTV didn't return phone calls by press time.

The network could kick off its programming on Aug. 1, before the start of the college football season, according to published reports.

Executives with The mtn. said it currently counts some 1.4 million subscribers through distribution agreements with Cable One in Boise, Idaho; Cox Communications in San Diego and Las Vegas; Bresan Communications in Wyoming and Colorado; and Baja Broadband in New Mexico, Nevada and St. George Utah, plus Comcast.

The nation's largest pay TV distributor, which owns 50% of the regional sports network, has placed The mtn. on expanded basic in Salt Lake City and digital classic in Denver and Albuquerque, among other areas, according to the network.

In other distribution news, Crown Media Holdings, owner of Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel, announced it had renewed its distribution agreement for Hallmark Channel with Time Warner Cable for a multiyear term. Under the new deal, Time Warner Cable, which provides Hallmark Channel to 12 million homes, will have the right to continue its distribution of the flagship service, as well as the opportunity to distribute both the standard-definition and high-definition versions of Hallmark Movie Channel.

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