NFL Network Picks Off WPIX On Cablevision

As Tribune Broadcasting’s retransmission squabble with Cablevision keeps channels such as WPIX/New York off of the carrier’s systems, Cablevision is offering a free preview of its latest addition to their lineup, NFL Network, including this week’s game featuring Eli Manning and the New York Giants – which is scheduled to be carried locally on WPIX.

When you’re Cablevision, you’re either damned if you do, or damned if you don’t.

As you know, Cablevision, which had been one of two major carriers not to beam NFL Network or NFL RedZone to subscribers, had reached a deal to carry the league-run channels on August 16.

And just as parts of the New York area finally had access to programs like “NFL Total Access” and “NFL GameDay Morning,” at the same time, those same parts of New York also withstood the abrupt and albeit temporary loss of WPIX/Channel 11.

That’s right: just hours after consummating a deal with NFL Network on August 16, Cablevision, in the early morning hours of August 17, discontinued the signals of several broadcast stations owned by Tribune Broadcasting as a result of an impasse over retransmission fees. (In addition to New York, other markets affected by this skirmish include Denver, where Tribune runs KWGN, and parts of Connecticut, where Tribune actually owns two channels.)

In New York, Cablevision had been simulcasting the Style network in lieu of WPIX as their battle with Tribune rages on. Style was likely chosen because some programs on its schedule were first broadcast on the CW Network, of which WPIX is an affiliate.

Then, over the weekend, Channel 11 on Cablevision had gone from Style to stats.

Yes, Cablevision is currently offering a free preview of its recently-added NFL Network on Channel 11 (Cablevision customers must be subscribed to a certain tier of service in order to receive NFLN at its regular location on Channel 150) at least for this week.

And the timing of this promotion couldn’t be better.

Later this week, it’ll once again be time for “Thursday Night Football,” with the New York Giants visiting the Carolina Panthers.

Of course, the league mandates NFL Network televised games (as well as those produced by ESPN, and back in the day, TNT) be simulcast on one television channel in each market whose teams are involved in such contests.

And lo and behold, if it isn’t WPIX that’s scheduled to be the local air liaison for the Giants/Panthers NFLN broadcast.

WPIX has actually been New York’s NFLN outlet for years. Last year, they introduced much of the New York metropolitan area to Tebowmania, as they simulcast the New York Jets’ defeat by the Denver Broncos, then led by Tim Tebow. WPIX also aired a Jets “TNF” game the previous year, a lopsided basting of the Cincinnati Bengals on Thanksgiving night. WPIX also carried the Thanksgiving night game in 2009, which once again featured the Broncos and a New York franchise – this time, the Giants; if you recall, then-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels at one point could be heard uttering profanities that somehow made the air. WPIX’s first NFLN game was in 2008 with a Jets/Patriots Thursday night tilt, so this year’s Giants/Panthers game would be WPIX’s fifth straight NFLN game.

In the first two years of the existence of the “Thursday Night Football” package – a.k.a. the Bryant Gumbel years – the scheduled games involving a New York team (which in both cases was the Giants) were actually Saturday night games, and with different New York broadcast outlets. The Giants/Redskins game in late December 2006 was simulcast on WNBC/Channel 4. The following year, a Giants/Patriots matchup at around the same time was scheduled to air locally in New York on WWOR/Channel 9, but at that point, the Patriots were on the verge of an undefeated season, and with NFLN still in its infancy as far as universal carriage was concerned, the game was actually simulcast nationally on CBS and NBC, in addition to WWOR in New York, and WCVB/Channel 5 in Boston – an ABC affiliate.

Anyway, the purpose of this nostalgic trip through NFL Network games in Market No. 1 – specifically, that Giants/Patriots game in 2007 – was to illustrate how Cablevision would have been flirting with history, had they decided not to provide a “free preview” of NFL Network, if only for Thursday night, should Cablevision’s impasse with Tribune Broadcasting enter its sixth week – and could go on for six months, based on reports. To limit a long-anticipated-on-short-rest football game between the New York Giants, coming off an emotional come-from-behind win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Carolina Panthers, who scored just as many points as the Bucs last week, albeit in a winning effort, only to those customers who have subscribed to the appropriate level of service so as to receive NFLN, while the game would otherwise not be available on WPIX, would equal some unnecessary criticism after securing a carriage deal eight years in the making. The only loss to Cablevision subscribers would be a one-hour Giants pregame show – which, much like “Gossip Girl” and “The New Adventures Of Old Christine” reruns, could be considered no big loss.

And even if WPIX remains blacked out on Cablevision through this Thanksgiving – where the New York Jets will play the New England Patriots – remember that effective this year, Thanksgiving night games move from NFL Network to NBC. So New Yorkers should be able to watch that game via WNBC/Channel 4.

Unless, of course, NBC Universal comes knocking to Cablevision with a retransmission issue of their own.

Damned if you do…

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