NFL Network Locks Up Mediacom Carriage

Time Warner Cable, Cablevision last of the big holdouts

With less than three weeks to go before the 2011-12 season kicks off, Mediacom has scored a multiyear affiliate deal with NFL Network.

While financial terms were not disclosed, the pact includes carriage of the 24/7 NFL Network, as well as the game day highlights service, NFL RedZone.

Mediacom plans to flip the switch on the NFL Network in its Midwestern and Southern markets before the season begins on Sept. 8. Wherever possible, the cable operator will launch simultaneous standard definition and HD feeds for both channels.

NFL Net and RedZone will be available to Mediacom customers who subscribe to its Digital Plus package. Fans looking to enhance the coverage afforded by the stand-alone net can add a season of RedZone for $49.95.

Mediacom is the country’s eighth-largest cable operator, serving 1.18 million subs in third- and fourth-tier media markets such as Springfield, Mo., and Albany, Ga. When satellite TV providers (DirecTV, DISH Network) and telcos (Verizon, AT&T) are factored in, Mediacom is ranked 12th among all U.S. distributors.

The deal comes on the heels of a similar pact between NFL Net and top-five cable operator Charter Communications. Earlier this month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the channel was in ongoing carriage talks with Time Warner Cable.

“You’ll be happy to know we are in negotiations today with Time Warner. We’re trying to get that done,” Goodell told fans gathered at the Carolina Panthers training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. “We believe it’s good for fans, we think it’s good for Time Warner, and we believe the market’s been set.”

Time Warner Cable declined comment. The operator carried NFL Network for a brief period (45 days), and only on the legacy Adelphia systems it picked up in a 2006 swap with Comcast.

Sources close to the league said the two sides aren’t any closer to coming to an agreement than they were a few months ago. Nor has No. 5 cable operator Cablevision warmed up to NFL Net.

The standard beefs about tiering and sub fees are at heart of the carriage stalemates. Five years ago, NFL Network leased its signal at a rate of 60 cents per subscriber per month; today, the carriage fee hovers at around 75 cents—the fifth-highest rate on the dial.

By comparison, MLB Network charges a carriage fee of 25 cents per month. That relatively low rate has helped MLB Net find its way into 57 million homes in just two-and-a-half years. The more established NFL Network is now available to some 62 million subs.

NFL Network carries a package of eight Thursday night games in the latter half of the regular season. A new lineup of September and October contests is expected to go up for bid next month; among the most ardent suitors are Turner Broadcasting, FX, and Comcast/NBC’s Versus.

NFL Network in 2010 took in $90.4 million in net ad sales revenue, according to SNL Kagan data, up 38 percent from the prior year’s haul ($65.5 million). Affiliate revenue added up to approximately $558 million a year ago.

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