It was a normal Sunday afternoon – or so I thought until I logged on to Facebook. All at once, seemingly every person on my friends list simultaneously posted the basic same status update. “Woo hoo! Finally got NFL RedZone!” posted one friend. “Can’t wait to watch my Browns on Thursday!” wrote another.
Exactly what had happened wasn’t clear until I read this post: “Thank GOD Time Warner Cable is finally carrying the NFL Network!”
Message received loud and clear.
A Little Background
The NFL Network launched during the 2003 season, but back then, it didn’t air games. Instead, if you tuned in to NFL Network in those early days, you’d likely see a whole bunch of old NFL Films and lots of commentary – but no live game action.
That changed in 2006 when the NFL Network began airing Thursday and Saturday night games. At first, the league’s official network only aired eight games, usually beginning midway through the season. This year, NFL Network rolled out a full season’s worth of Thursday night games; Saturday night games will begin airing after the end of the NCAA football season.
But therein laid the problem – because if you were a Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks customer, you couldn’t see those games, even if they involved a team from your home market. Although the NFL Network had inked carriage deals (that’s a fancy TV term for broadcast rights) with cable and satellite companies like Comcast, Cox, Dish Network, and DirecTV years ago, Time Warner Cable – the nation’s second largest cable provider – remained on the outside looking in.
Gridiron Battle: TWC vs. NFL Network
Over the years, many cable and satellite providers have gone to court with the NFL Network over how they carried the channel. The NFL Network famously took Comcast to court in 2009, claiming that the cable company discriminated against the NFL Network by making it a premium channel. It was just one of several similar court battles over how providers would carry the NFL Network.
All the while, Time Warner Cable stayed on the sidelines. TWC and the league couldn’t seem to agree on a deal. In 2007, the NFL Network offered to enter into binding arbitration with TWC, hoping an unbiased third party could determine a fair price and tier for the NFL’s programming. TWC refused the offer. A stalemate ensued, with both sides refusing to budge, like an offensive lineman standing ground at the line of scrimmage.
And then came September 21, 2012. Late in the afternoon – as most people were already heading home for the weekend – the NFL Network announced it had reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable, as well as Bright House Networks, the nation’s sixth largest provider.
Ultimately, it appears as if the NFL Network finally won out in the end. Previously, TWC had said it wanted to make the NFL Network part of its sports tier or as a pay-per-view option on game day; either way, customers would have to shell out extra bucks to get the channel. In the deal inked last week, TWC will carry the network on its Digital Basic package. It will also be available to non-digital subscribers through the Sports Pass tier, as will NFL RedZone, which airs live coverage of all possessions inside the red zone during Sunday games. TWC and the NFL have not announced the financial details of the
Just two days after reaching the deal, TWC customers finally got to watch game day coverage and red zone plays on the two NFL channels; they’ll be able to watch their first Thursday night game this week as well. Do you hear all that cheering? That’s the sound of millions of Cleveland Browns fans, who are ecstatic that they’ll be able to watch their team take on the Ravens Thursday night – well, they might as well cheer now. We all know how that game is going to end.