Nets fight for clip rights

NFL wants to ban local use of highlights

CBS and Fox execs are seeking to derail a proposal by the NFL to bar the use of game highlight clips on locally produced sports programs that air against network NFL telecasts.

The proposal to embargo the use of highlight clips between noon Sunday and midnight Monday (EST) is included in the rich new contracts the league recently inked with ABC, CBS and Fox. Regularly scheduled local newscasts and year-round cable shows like ESPN’s “Sportscenter” and Fox Sports’ nightly newscast, would not be affected by the ban, according to an NFL spokesman.

The league’s initiative is prompted by concern from team owners that locally produced wrap-up shows and coach/player interview programs draw viewers away from the network telecasts of NFL games. The idea is to protect the NFL franchise and NFL network programming from local non-game competition, the league spokesman said.

While the prospect of a ban is raising hackles among broadcasters, the NFL has not made a final decision on whether to enforce the embargo, the spokesman said. Execs for CBS and Fox were unavailable for comment Thursday, but a Fox spokesman acknowledged that the clip embargo “is an issue that we are currently discussing with the NFL.”

Together, CBS and Fox ponied up a staggering $8.4 billion for their AFC and NFC rights packages, and ad revenue from locally produced highlights shows on Fox and CBS O&Os were expected to help defray that cost.

A strict ban on the use of highlights would be particularly bad news for Fox stations in NFC markets and CBS stations in AFC markets. ABC affils would not be as handicapped as the embargo would be lifted by the time the action was over on ABC’s “NFL Monday Night Football.”

But a CBS affil with an nearby AFC team might want to run a pre- or post-game show on Sundays that would air against the Fox network telecast of an NFC — and vice versa. CBS’ New York O&O WCBS just this week announced plans for a Sunday highlights show entitled “NFL Tonight.” That show, and others like it, would be dependent on the spoken word if the NFL strictly enforces the ban.

A CBS Sports source, who declined to speak for attribution, said that the NFL ban referred solely to those highlights shows in “the afternoon window” and that network expected the matter to be resolved in favor of CBS.

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