NFL scores more subs

Net hits it big with EchoStar deal

The NFL Network has parlayed the advent of eight live regular-season NFL games in 2006 (a first) into a carriage-renewal deal that will up the web’s EchoStar subscriber base from 7 million to all of the satcaster’s 12.2 million subs.

In a simultaneous announcement, the ad-supported net said it would produce “NFL Game Day,” a 90-minute series that will run Sunday nights at 11:30 during the NFL season, providing extensive highlights of each game played that day. Rich Eisen is the host.

EchoStar deal boosts the NFL Network’s total subscriber count to 40 million. Channel harvests two-thirds of the total from satellite distributors (15.4 million from DirecTV, 12.2 million from EchoStar).

The eight NFL games have emboldened the net to elevate its rate-card price from a monthly fee of about 20¢ a subscriber to upwards of 60¢, according to Kagan Research.

NFL Network is negotiating carriage rights with AT&T and Verizon, each of which is setting up an operation to compete with cable systems throughout the country.

Net’s strategy is to get the AT&T and Verizon deals wrapped up in the next couple of weeks to use as a wedge, in combination with its DirecTV and EchoStar pacts, to force Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, the two biggest holdouts, to sign up for the channel.

If those cablers remain uninterested, the NFL Network would be ready to give marketing help to their satellite and telephone competitors. The prospect of losing customers to DirecTV or Verizon may induce the reluctant TW and Cablevision to engineer an NFL Net deal.

In Monday’s contract, EchoStar also has purchased the rights to all of the NFL Network’s high-definition feeds, including the eight regular-season games.

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