Time Warner, NFL Network Butt Heads


Time Warner Cable and the NFL Network are strapping on their respective helmets in anticipation of a nasty carriage dispute.

The operator may punt the network away from systems owned by Adelphia Communications that it is acquiring, including those in such National Football League markets as Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; and Dallas.

In response, the network -- which added an eight-game, late-season primetime package -- is preparing a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to run throughout the pro football season if necessary against Time Warner, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks and other cable operators that are not carrying the 41 million-subscriber channel.

Time Warner is considering dropping NFL Network from systems in Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles, the Carolinas and Maine that are currently carrying the service as early as Aug. 1, following the expected July 31 closing of Time Warner Inc.’s and Comcast’s purchase of Adelphia, according to sources at both parties.

Time Warner, which doesn't have a corporate deal with the network, placed ads in newspapers within those Adelphia markets Wednesday, alerting subscribers that NFL Network could be one of several networks either added or dropped with the ownership change.

Time Warner officials said no decisions have been made regarding NFL Network and the MSO remains in “active discussions” with the network to secure a carriage deal.

Meanwhile, NFL Network will run TV, radio and print ads -- as early as this coming week -- identifying operators that are currently not carrying the service. The network was expected to run ads this past Sunday in newspapers reaching NFL markets, including Green Bay, Wis. (Time Warner), and Tampa, Fla. (Bright House).

NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said the service is prepared to execute a multimedia marketing blitz for several months, if necessary, adding, “We’re prepared to go as long as it takes, but we hope it’s only a one-week period.”

The ads will not target MSOs that carry the network but have yet to sign up for its new rate card, which includes the $300 million eight-game package, plus replays of select Sunday contests.

Thus far, satellite services EchoStar Communications and DirecTV -- as well as a number of small and midsized operators -- have come off the bench to sign the new deals. Distributors said the network’s new licensing fees range between 50-75 cents per month, per subscriber -- a substantial increase over its previous rate card calling for between 20-25 cents.