Comcast to carry NFL Network past deal deadline

April 30, 2009 5:23:46 PM PDT
Comcast Corp. said late Thursday that it will continue carrying the NFL Network even after their contract expires at midnight, as negotiations continue. Without an agreement, the nation's largest cable TV operator had said it would be required to pull the plug on the football network starting Friday.

"Comcast and the NFL are engaged in productive discussions toward a new agreement for NFL Network carriage on Comcast," Comcast said in a statement.

Comcast and the National Football League are in a court battle over Comcast's decision to put the NFL-owned channel in a premium sports tier rather than in a lesser-priced service package that has more viewers.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, said the NFL asked for a 350 percent increase in the fees it would pay to carry the network, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Since the fees are based on the number of viewers, Comcast was able to pay less to the NFL Network by moving the channel from a digital tier with 8.6 million subscribers to a sports package that has 2 million subscribers and costs an extra $7 per month. The Philadelphia-based cable operator said it was allowed to do so under their contract, signed in 2004.

The NFL said Comcast made the move in retaliation for not getting the rights to show eight live NFL games for its Versus sports channel.

The NFL pointed out that Comcast rivals such as Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Group Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. all agreed to the same rates to carry the network. The NFL Network also said that with a smaller audience, it couldn't get sports packages like Pac-10 Conference college football games, which had a minimum viewership requirement.

In 2006, the NFL sued Comcast in New York state court to force the cable operator to move the network back to the more popular digital tier. The following May, the court sided with Comcast.

The NFL appealed. An appellate court partially reversed the state court ruling and sent the case back for discovery and trial, where it is pending today.

In the meantime, the NFL sought an FCC order on the dispute. Now the case awaits a ruling from an administrative law judge at the FCC.

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