The nearly nine-year-old NFL Network has come quite a long way since the 11.5 million subscribers it gained upon its launch in the fall of 2003. These days, they’re available in about 65 million households, including seven out of the eight top television providers.
That number got a bit of a concussion on Wednesday.
That’s because Insight Communications’ cable system has been acquired by Time Warner Cable – otherwise known as the lone carrier out of the top eight television providers that does not carry NFL Network.
Over 750,000 Insight customers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, in cities such as Cincinnati, Columbus, Lexington, Louisville and Evansville, had experienced the sports broadcasting version of “sudden death” when, at the stroke of midnight, NFLN’s signal was removed as Insight had transitioned into Time Warner.
One viewer reported seeing a message where NFLN used to be on his lineup, reading: “One moment please. This channel should be available shortly.”
What gall. Apparently, Time Warner’s idea of “shortly” is six years.
That’s how long the cable operator and NFL Network have been squabbling over carriage. Exactly one year ago, the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, stepped in and ordered negotiations for a long-term deal between NFLN and Time Warner that he hoped would be done by the season kickoff.
Much like a Philadelphia Eagles fan in January, any hopes of NFLN and Time Warner striking a deal went by the wayside, as carriage talks broke down following a “heated” argument.
Back in August of last year, Goodell said: “When we’re negotiating with our distributors, we believe NFL Network should be in every home. And we’re going to continue to push that because it’s good for football, and it’s good for the people who love football.”
Here we are, one year later. Not only is NFL Network largely absent from Time Warner households, as well as those of another large cable operator, Cablevision, but nearly three quarters of a million cable subscribers have watched helplessly as their Insight Communications lineup has been grandfathered into Time Warner Cable, which wasted no time euthanizing NFL Network in front of those subscribers. This despite NFLN’s willingness to maintain the previous terms under the old Insight deal.
One online channel lineup found for what was Insight shows virtually the same lineup “effective August 1” – with channels 547 and 548, which had been NFL Network and NFL Red Zone, absent.
“We are disappointed that Time Warner Cable has taken away NFL Network and NFL Red Zone from the many Insight customers who have enjoyed both channels for years,” the network said in a statement released days before their signal would go dark on systems of what would be the former Insight, which had carried NFLN since 2005, and added Red Zone four years later. “With an expanded 13-game Thursday Night Football schedule kicking off in Week 2 and a new four-hour weekday morning show, NFL Network will bring fans more exclusive content than ever before in 2012.”
Shortly after, a Time Warner Cable spokesman did some early damage (spin) control: “We regret that some of our customers will be disppointed to no longer receive [NFLN and Red Zone], but the terms being demanded now for the NFL Network are out of line for a network willing to guarantee just a handful of live games.”
These days, NFL Network is more than just a place for “a handful of live games.” There’s daily football news (“Total Access”), programs featuring exclusive NFL Films footage (“Sound FX”), one of the most popular Sunday football programming franchises (“GameDay”), and of course, the aforementioned “new four-hour weekday morning show,” “NFL AM”. Oh, how I would not want to be an Insight/Time Warner customer after getting attached to “Figure of Speech” and “Our Daily Tebow” after just two days.
Currently, NFL Network asks for around 75 cents per each subscriber – a mere fraction of the upwards of $5.00 that ESPN demands. Of course, ESPN has more rights to sports events, which is partly what had led to the Worldwide Leader’s asking price to balloon over the years. Whereas NFLN has just one sport to focus on. In addition to Thursday night games, NFLN also carries Arena Football contests. And who knows, they may be raring to carry a playoff game or two each year at some point. So, for a niche sports network run by the most popular sports league in the country, is 75 cents per subscriber really too much to ask?
In the meantime, Insight-cum-Time Warner customers who are avid football fans might choose to take it sitting down and start watching ESPN, and endure news and manufactured controversies about other teams and leagues before they get to the content they desire.
Or they can switch to another cable carrier in their area, should one be available. Another option, again if available, is a fiber optic provider, such as Verizon FiOS, which does not appear to be in many of the areas that Insight previously served. However, Cincinnati Bell Fioptics is available for affected customers in the Queen City. There’s also the option of a satellite provider (DirecTV, Dish), which may be a bit more pricey than a cable bill in some cases. (Some landlords forbid the installation of a satellite dish on their buildings, which could be another roadblock.)
By now, Insight subscribers who had been NFLN diehards likely made the switch to another carrier (the Time Warner acquisition approval was made official on March 1, which gave customers five months to prepare for the Time Warner takeover). But for those who may had been taken by surprise by the removal of NFLN, how many of the 760,000 affected customers will make the move?
“I’ve got no guess,” answered Cincinnati Enquirer media columnist John Kiesewetter (who as you may expect based on some of the links on this post, has been all over this story) via e-mail. “I know some people will, but don’t know how many.”
With no telling just how large the exodus, if any, from newly-wired Time Warner connections will be, and considering Time Warner is the second largest cable system in the country, and keeping in mind that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will stop at nothing until NFL Network is cleared in as many households as possible, there is but one thing left to do: Get Tim Tebow involved.
The game plan might be difficult, considering he doesn’t play for the Bengals or the Colts, plus the fact that ESPN has been on his shirtless jock a great deal. But if Jeremy Lin could make it possible for MSG Network to settle their fifty-day-long impasse with Time Warner Cable, there’s probably a way that Tebowmania can somehow work a miracle in resolving a seven-year dispute between his league’s television network and Time Warner.
In the meantime, why not contact Time Warner Cable and tell them, “You’re despicable.”