NFL Network Ponders Digital Carriage


Las Vegas -- NFL Network will consider strategies for its second year of operation that include some forms of distribution on digital-cable tiers, a top network executive said Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show here.

“We need to find a business model that works for all parties involved,” said Adam Shaw, senior vice president of distribution at NFL Network, in comments made after a panel entitled “Television 2.0.”

Two options Shaw said the network will consider are: 100% basic distribution during the football season and digital carriage off-season; and 100% basic distribution in markets that have National Football League teams, with digital carriage in other markets.

Cable operators such as Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems -- the two largest operators in the New York area -- have balked at delivering the network to all of their basic subscribers.

The network only telecasts eight games per season, and it is believed to be asking for 70 cents per month, per subscriber for its all-NFL, all-the-time programming, which puts it among the highest-cost networks vying for basic carriage.

Shaw said NFL Network will also look at beefing up the kinds of “enhanced services” it can provide to make its programming more attractive to cable operators and their viewing customers.

These could include an interactive feed of statistics and scores that viewers could access while watching; “instant” video clips; and add-ons, such as a library of video clips organized by NFL player that can be fed to viewers who play in fantasy-football leagues.

NFL Network achieved distribution to approximately 40 million basic-cable households in its first season, where it had hoped to get 70 million or more homes.

Shaw said negotiations to gain broader distribution for the network’s second season will kick off in two weeks, he said. That’s when he says he is set to sit down for lunch with Time Warner Cable’s new programming negotiator, executive VP of programming Melinda Witmer.

Time Warner was “perfectly reasonable,” Shaw said, when the network negotiated carriage in late December of a college-football bowl game involving Rutgers University of New Jersey, for which NFL Network held the rights.