Archive for Saturday, December 16, 2006

NFL Network rejects cable proposals

December 16, 2006

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— The NFL Network has rejected two proposals from Time Warner Cable that would have allowed New York area viewers to see a much-anticipated college football game between Rutgers and Kansas State.

The NFL Network, which is owned by the NFL, is carrying the Dec. 28 game in the inaugural Texas Bowl in Houston. New Jersey-based Rutgers, long an underdog in college football, is coming off its best Big East season, and there is great local interest in seeing the game.

Carriage of the game has become an issue since it won't be on local broadcast outlets. Time Warner Cable hasn't reached a long-term carriage deal with the network, saying it's asking for too much money. Another New York-area cable provider, Cablevision Systems Corp., also doesn't carry the network.

Thursday, NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said the network was offering a free preview to New York-area subscribers "to appease the New York residents who don't have a choice." But there were no plans to include Kansas in that offer.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said Friday that he had urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the Wildcats' bowl game available to Kansas viewers.

"Every Kansan should be able to cheer on their team, be it the Wildcats, the Jayhawks or the Shockers," Roberts said in a news release. "This issue is symptomatic of a long-running dispute between the NFL Network and certain cable providers."

He said Kansas State fans shouldn't be kept from seeing the game because they subscribe to a certain cable company.

Goodell told the AP on Tuesday that the network would offer Time Warner Cable and Cablevision a free week of carriage from Dec. 24 to 30, which would include the Rutgers game and also the Insight Bowl between Minnesota and Texas Tech on Dec. 29.

Time Warner Cable, a unit of the media conglomerate Time Warner Inc., responded with two proposals - either carry just the Rutgers game on its basic tier, which would include all New York area customers, or carry the network for the full week on a digital tier, which is a premium service taken by about 75 percent of customers in the area.

Steve Bornstein, the head of the NFL Network, told Glenn Britt in a letter on Thursday that neither proposal would satisfy both of the network's goals of making the Rutgers game available to local fans at no additional cost while also exposing customers to other NFL-related programming on the network.

Bornstein's letter, which Time Warner Cable provided to the AP, left open the possibility of further talks, suggesting that there could be a way to figure out how to carry the network for the full week on the basic tier or to find a mutually agreeable option regarding the digital tier.

Britt, however, had told Bornstein earlier that carrying the network for the full week on the basic service was impossible because doing so would force bumping off other programming that Time Warner was contractually obligated to carry.

In an e-mail, Time Warner Cable spokesman Mark Harrad called the NFL Network's response "self-serving."

"Their overriding goal is apparent," Harrad said. "It is not to ensure Rutgers' fans see their team. But, rather to ensure their Network is sampled by the largest number of our customers in the hopes they might gain some leverage in the longer-term negotiations that have been going on for months."

The NFL Network didn't return a call or e-mail request for comment.

Rutgers' blowout record this season has attracted a huge level of interest in the New York region.

Its Nov. 9 home game against Louisville, which both teams went into undefeated, was watched by 4.6 million households, according to ESPN. That made it the second-most viewed Thursday night, regular season college football game ever aired on ESPN, after the West Virginia vs. Louisville matchup the week before, which was seen by 4.9 million households.

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