The FCC may have changed Comcast Corp.'s game plan for NFL Network.
In a decision released late Friday, the FCC ruled that Comcast should migrate NFL Network to a more widely distributed cable package from its current placement on a sports tier, according to an Associated Press report.
The FCC’s decision, according to the AP, indicated that Comcast discriminated against the pro football league’s in-house service by only carrying it on a more expensive sports service. The NFL filed the complaint against Comcast in May.
The FCC ruling now goes before an administrative law judge, who could force Comcast to carry the NFL programming at a certain price.
Comcast currently offers NFL Network on a sports tied, priced between $5 to $7 monthly. All told, Comcast has nearly 25 million video customers.
"We are pleased with today's FCC ruling and appreciate the commissioners' attention to our complaint," the NFL Network said in a statement. "NFL cable viewers could soon be the real winners."
For its part, Comcast stated that its "programming decisions are in the best interest of our consumers and consistent with the law,” adding that "forcing these networks onto our cable systems will cost consumers millions of dollars and cause cable prices to rise."
The distribution dispute dates back several years. The NFL sued Comcast in October 2006 for placing the NFL Network on a sports tier on then recently acquired systems from Adelphia Communications. In May 2007, New York State Judge Bernard Fried ruled that Comcast had the right to shift the NFL Network to a sports tier under an option in an August 2004 contract because the nation’s largest cable operator did not obtain the rights to distribute a package of out-of-market NFL games or a number of nationally televised NFL games by July 31, 2006. Since then the parties have been engaged in more legal actions.
Cable and Comcast do not have the rights to the Sunday Ticket, out-of-market, pay-per-view package, which is the exclusive province of DirecTV. Comcast-owned OLN -- the sports network now known as Versus --bid for an eight-game NFL primetime games. However, the league awarded those contests to NFL Network early in 2006.
In addition to its problems with Comcast, NFL Network has yet to secure carriage with such top operators as Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, over pricing and placement issues. Those and other distribution stalemates resulted in the NFL simulcasting NFL Network's final 2007 game between the New York Giants and the then-undefeated New England Patriots on CBS and NBC.
The first of NFL Network's 2008 primetime games is scheduled to kick off Nov. 6 with the Denver Broncos visiting the Cleveland Browns.