Bornstein prexy, CEO of planned cable net

NEW YORK — Steven Bornstein has signed as president and CEO of the NFL Channel, giving the proposed 24-hour cable network a significant boost.

Bornstein, who helped to turn ESPN into the No. 1 revenue-generating cable net during his tenure as president and CEO from 1990-99, will also gain the title exec VP of media for the National Football League. Since September, Bornstein has served as an adviser to the NFL on TV and strategic media.

Bornstein helped to negotiate the renewal last month of the NFL’s exclusive contract with DirecTV for a full lineup of out-of-market regular-season games, tripling the previous license fee to $400 million per year.

As part of that deal, DirecTV agreed to become the first buyer of the NFL Channel; DirecTV will make it available to all 11 million of its subscribers when the network opens for business in the fall.

Over the next few months, Bornstein will put together an affiliate-sales team to clear cable systems for the NFL Channel, which will go on digital tiers and be fully ad-supported. Net won’t feature any live games but will be loaded with interview programs, player profiles and shows drawn from the archives of NFL Films.

The NFL ratings are up this year on Fox, CBS and ESPN but the $2.2- billion annual license fee that these three networks and ABC cough up has plunged them into a vat of red ink.

So when Bornstein has to spearhead the renegotiations of network contracts in 2004, he may be faced with cutbacks in NFL license fees for the first time in decades.

To avoid potential declines in network income, Bornstein may be forced to add a third or fourth primetime game each week to the existing “ABC Monday Night Football” and ESPN’s Sunday night football.

Another option for Bornstein is to put some games on pay TV or pay-per-view as a supplement to the broadcast and cable coverage. But all of these added games could end up diluting the NFL’s overall ratings.

Bornstein rose through the ranks at ESPN. While he was ESPN president, network parent company Walt Disney provided him with the added title of ABC Sports prexy in 1996. Bornstein left ESPN in 1999 to become chairman of the Walt Disney Internet Group, and in May 2001, he took over as president of ABC Television, where he remained for a year.

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