NHL Network inks U.S. carriage deals

Jerry Jones to head NFL Network Committee

The National Hockey League Network has engineered its first domestic carriage agreements — with Comcast, DirecTV, EchoStar, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Cablevision — and will begin operation in the U.S. this month.

Meanwhile, another 24/7 pro sports cabler, the NFL Network, said it has named Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as chairman of the NFL Network Committee, charging him with securing more digital-basic subscribers from holdouts such as Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and Cablevision.

The NFL net is having difficulty with some of the big cable operators because it’s seeking widely circulated carriage together with stiff license fees that all subscribers would have to pay for, not just sports fans. The NFL wants either expanded basic, which would make the network available to just about all of a cable system’s subs, or digital basic, which is more limited but still substantial, because it reaches all of the system’s digital subscribers.

By contrast, the NHL Network is allowing cable ops and satcasters to place the net on digital sports tiers, which reach a relatively low percentage of subscribers because they have to pony up an extra monthly tariff on top of the digital-basic fee. Precisely because of the poor clearance, the NFL net is saying no to digital sports tiers.

Launched exclusively in Canada in 2001, the NHL Network has carried 50 live regular-season games along with classic games, docus, instructional shows, highlights and other programming. The U.S. and Canadian versions of the NHL net will be similar, although the lineup of live games will differ to match the interest of fans in the respective countries.

The NHL Network’s signature show is the nightly “NHL on the Fly,” co-hosted by Dan Pollard and Brian Duff, which runs during the season with scores, highlights and interviews.

In a statement for the NFL net, Jones singled out DirecTV, EchoStar, Verizon and AT&T for praise because they offer the channel “on broad packages without extra costs to consumers.” The NFL Network will continue its multimillion-dollar marketing campaign with DirecTV and EchoStar to put pressure on Comcast and Time Warner by urging cable customers who don’t get the network to cancel their subscriptions and buy satellite dishes.

The network also boasts about what it calls its “content deals” with Apple’s iTunes, Sprint NFL Mobile, Sirius Satellite Radio, MyNetworkTV and Ion Network. Video of NFL content is also becoming more prevalent on NFL.com.

The NFL has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in which it claims that the large cable ops are using their market power to discriminate against independent channels like the NFL Network. The net’s solution is mandatory arbitration, which would resolve contract disputes like the ones with Comcast and Time Warner by handing down decisions that would be binding on both sides.