Following its successful deal with the National Basketball
Association, Viewer's Choice now wants the National Hockey League's
out-of-market pay-per-view package.
But while the NBA deal begins with the start of the
1999-2000 season this fall, executives said, an NHL package wouldn't launch until at
least early next year.
Representatives from the league and Viewer's Choice
confirmed that discussions are ongoing to provide the "NHL Center Ice"
out-of-market package to cable operators.
The package -- which, up to this point, has been the
exclusive domain of direct-broadcast satellite services -- offers up to 30 NHL games per
week via PPV, and it retails at a suggested price of $139.
"We would like to try to figure out a way to add
hockey to our professional-sports arsenal," Viewer's Choice senior vice
president of distribution and product development Rob Jacobson said. "We continue to
have discussions to try to make things happen."
Said NHL vice president of business affairs Doug Pearlman:
"We have had ongoing discussions with Viewer's Choice. If we are able to
conclude an agreement, we'd expect for it to begin around midseason."
NHL Center Icegenerated some 250,000 buys and $30
million, according to estimates by The Carmel Group. Industry sources, however, said the
package has been only marginally profitable for the DBS services.
If an NHL deal is reached, it would provide cable with five
multichannel out-of-market sports packages, joining the NBA, college football, college
basketball and Major League Soccer.
Meanwhile, it's still unclear how many systems will
offer the "NBA League Pass" package. Operators would have to allot as many as 12
channels on a given night for the up to 40 regular-season NBA games offered in the
One cable operator that has deployed digital boxes said the
company is looking closely at the package. "We're seriously considering carriage
of [NBA League Pass]. I think it will be great for our customers," the operator said.
While some operators questioned the package's revenue
potential, given its performance on DBS, others believe its value to cable goes well
beyond the bottom line.
"The package will help to position us as the
pre-eminent destination for sports programming," one top-five MSO executive said.
"If we as an industry are looking at this for its payback opportunities, it would be
very shortsighted on our part."