Delay of Game: Time Warner Cable-NFL Network Talks Break Down

Despite optimism, carriage fight unresolved

Despite intensive efforts to broker a carriage agreement, talks between NFL Network and Time Warner Cable have ended without a deal. After having called off any future negotiations, it now appears that the two parties will not come to terms before the end of the 2011-12 NFL campaign.

Sources said the Oct. 7 talks between the NFL and the nation’s No. 2 cable operator became so heated that both sides walked out of a Time Warner Cable conference room without scheduling a follow-up meeting.

Just two months ago, TWC subs were given reason to believe that a deal would be worked out before the season began. On August 3, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell assured a group of Carolina Panthers fans that progress had been made toward ending the eight-year stalemate.

“You’ll be happy to know we are in negotiations today with Time Warner. We’re trying to get that done,” Goodell said. “We believe it’s good for fans, we think it’s good for Time Warner, and we believe the market’s been set.”

Later that same afternoon, Goodell told NFL Network reporter Scott Hanson that the league would accept nothing short of full distribution for the channel. “When we’re negotiating with our distributors, we believe [the network] should be in every home,” Goodell said. “And we’re going to continue to push that because it’s good for football and it’s good for the people who love football.”

Goodell’s optimism may have been colored by the end of the NFL lockout. The league and the NFLPA brokered a peace settlement on July 25, nine days before the commissioner made his comments on the TWC-NFL Network situation.

Sources said that both parties had made a good deal of headway in recent weeks. Not only were the two sides inching closer on a carriage fee, but TWC had agreed to place NFL Network on a basic digital tier, rather than a pricey sports tier.

While NFL Network did not comment on what may have triggered the collapse in negotiations, a source confirmed that it was unlikely that a deal would be brokered in time for the channel’s first Thursday night game of the season (Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers, Nov. 10).

NFL Network charges a carriage fee of approximately 80 cents per sub per month, making it the fourth most expensive channel on the cable dial, according to SNL Kagan estimates. (At $4.40 a pop, ESPN is far and away the priciest television network.)

Time Warner and its sibling cable company, Bright House Networks, operate in 12 of the NFL’s 32 home markets. Among these are the nation’s No. 1 DMA, New York; other top 20 markets served by TWC include Dallas, Tampa, and Cleveland.

Fans in TWC markets are not shut out when NFL Network carries the hometown team, as all NFL Network games are available via broadcast in local markets.

NFL Network in 2010 took in $513 million in carriage fees and another $90.4 million in net ad sales revenue, according to SNL Kagan estimates. After cutting an August 2011 carriage deal with Charter Communications, the channel now reaches 57 million households.