DirecTV, Charter, Insight sign up for net

NEW YORK — The NFL Network continues to advance the cable carriage ball slowly up the field, signing five midsize cable operators Thursday. Moves could add another 1 million digital customers to the channel’s subscriber base.

Among the larger cable distribution players, only DirecTV, Charter and Insight Communications have signed up with NFL Network so far, partly because the monthly fee of 22¢ per subscriber for a five-year license term is fairly lofty for a digital channel that offers no regular-season NFL games.

But the ad-supported network is promising 54 preseason games in 2004 along with 22 NFL European League games, classic games from the NFL Films archives and series featuring news, discussion and analysis of football.

Cable operators also know that the highly desirable package of out-of-market NFL games, now exclusive to DirecTV, will come up for bids in 2005.

Cable operators who buy the NFL Network will build up plenty of goodwill with the league and may hope to use that advantage to end DirecTV’s exclusivity in the out-of-market package. These games have become DirecTV’s best subscriber lure against cable throughout the last decade.

The five operators who have signed with NFL Network are Bresnan Communications, Blue Ridge Cable, Buckeye Cable, Patriot Media and Susquehanna Communications. Adam Shaw, senior VP of distribution for NFL Network, was the channel’s point person in the negotiations.

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