ESPN strikes deal with cable operator group

Monthly cost of channel to climb above $1 mark

NEW YORK — ESPN has engineered its first deal with a consortium of cable operators, signing an eight-year contract with the NCTC (National Cable TV Cooperative) for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN News.

The NCTC, founded in 1984, provides programming, hardware and services to more than 1,000 member cable operators, encompassing nearly 6,000 individual systems that reach a total of 8.5-million subscribers.

Most expensive

ESPN and NCTC declined to discuss the terms of the deal, although one source said that at some point in the contract the monthly license fee will climb above $1 a subscriber, making ESPN the most expensive nationally distributed cable network in the country.

“We’ve now wrapped up long-term deals with cable operators representing about 70% of our total affiliate base,” said Sean Bratches, VP of affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN. Bratches added that the deal didn’t include Classic Sports Network, which ESPN bought last year and renamed ESPN Classic, because the NCTC had completed a previous long-term arrangement with the channel before ESPN took it over.

Cost effective

Mike Pandzik, president of NCTC, lauded the ESPN transaction as “a great deal for our members” because they’ll end up paying less than if each of the members had negotiated with ESPN individually.

NCTC has master contracts with about 75 other cable networks that deliver volume discounts to its members. Pandzik said he’s negotiating for the consortium with the following remaining holdouts: USA, Lifetime, A&E, the Disney Channel, the Nashville Network and Country Music TV.

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