NFL Network Goes Wide...On The Web

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Don’t have TV access to NFL Network and its coverage at 8 p.m. of the big game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys?

Log on to your computer instead: The league is giving fans a chance to check out some of the action live via the Web.

Unsuccessful in its push to get more cable operators to ink carriage deals, NFL Network will kick off NFL.com Live with tonight’s clash at Texas Stadium giving users “live look-ins” to the game at the 15 and 45 minutes past the hour and via select “red-zone” entries throughout the contest, plus a host of other programming and interactive features.

NFL.com Live: Thursday and Saturday Night Football presented by Sprint will also be in play for NFL Network’s remaining six primetime games this season. The package is also available to fans on the go via NFL Mobile on Sprint, which will stream NFL.com’s video coverage.

The online audible comes as NFL Network, which counts some 35 million subscribers via deals with DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon’s FiOS TV, Cox Communications and some 240 other cable providers, remains locked at the scrimmage line with such operators as Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Suddenlink. These distributors contend that the service doesn’t warrant a monthly fee of around 70 cents per subscriber and digital-basic positioning. Comcast, meanwhile, migrated NFL Network to a sports tier from digital basic, following a favorable court ruling in May, costing the service about 8 million subscribers with the nation's largest cable operator.

In addition to the streaming game look-ins tonight, the programming on NFL.com Live, quarterbacked by Derrin Horton, Jamie Dukes and Rod Woodson from the channel’s studio in Culver City, Calif., will feature segments from other NFL Network shows, as well as live studio fare, including game highlights, analysis and previews of the NFL games ahead this weekend, in-studio guests and conversations with the service’s talent on-site in Dallas.

On the interactive side of the field the site will provide real-time statistical updates; present live blogging components from NFL.com and NFL Network experts at the game; proffer a predictive “call the play” feature; and give users a chance to submit questions.

Although it does serve as a showcase, the online gambit isn’t NFL Network’s first option.

“This is not a replacement for watching the games on TV. We would much rather have the games widely distributed on cable,” said an NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky. “It’s a complementary product for fans to check out their fantasy players or get engaged in the blogs. It will probably appeal to younger fans who are text messaging on their PDAs.”

Palansky also said the NFL.com Live will enable the league -- which is now operating the Web site this season, after having it previously run by CBS Sportsline -- to gauge what features users are most interested in going forward as it tries to more fully capitalize on its digital rights.

Under its current TV contracts, the eight games carried by NFL Network are the only contests that can be streamed on the Web in the U.S.

Verizon, for the second season, is the only Internet service provider delivering the NFL Network’s eight-game slate on broadband to its customers that subscribe to either its FiOS Internet or digital subscriber line service, as well as either FiOS TV or DirecTV through Verizon.

Palansky said that other carriers could also streams the games on broadband if they met certain TV distribution benchmarks.

A full package of NFL games is available on broadband via Yahoo! Sports outside of the U.S. and its territories, Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Bermuda and Antigua.

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