Comcast, NFL Network settle dispute

PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL Network will stay in Comcast Corp.'s TV lineup under a deal that also could open the door for the football channel to get shown by other major cable TV operators that do not yet carry the network.

Comcast and the National Football League said Tuesday they had reached an agreement for the nation's largest cable TV operator to air the football channel on its second-most popular digital tier of service.

The deal spans 10 years and would cost Comcast 40 cents to 45 cents per subscriber, down from the NFL's previous asking price of 70 cents. By Aug. 1, the NFL Network will be carried throughout Comcast's service areas on a programming package called Digital Classic, which has around 10 million subscribers.

"It's always been a matter of what's a fair price. ... I think we were able to work that out," Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said on a conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "I think both sides may have had to give a little more than they intended."

The NFL threw in access to DirecTV's Red Zone Channel, a part of the Sunday Ticket satellite package with live look-ins to games when teams are inside the 20-yard line.

The NFL also announced a two-year extension with broadcast partners Fox and CBS, taking those deals through the 2013 season.

The NFL-Comcast agreement ends a fight that began in 2006 after Comcast announced that it was moving the NFL Network from a digital tier of service with 8.6 million subscribers to a sports programming package that costs $8 a month extra and has 2 million customers. Comcast said it didn't want to pay the higher fees the NFL was demanding after adding eight live games to the NFL Network.

The NFL sued Philadelphia-based Comcast and brought the matter before the Federal Communications Commission, where hearings before an administrative law judge just ended. The league claimed Comcast was punishing the NFL because Comcast didn't get rights to show eight live NFL games on its Versus sports channel.

The impasse nearly led to a blackout of the NFL Network on Comcast on May 1, when their previous, five-year agreement ended. The two agreed to continue airing the network as talks continued.

Talks intensified over the last two weeks, as the NFL agreed to reduce its price closer to the original fee, 15 cents per subscriber, that was in place before the rate hike.

With Tuesday's agreement, both sides have agreed to drop the lawsuits.

And the lower price also makes it more likely that other cable TV service providers will reach deals to carry the NFL Network. After its agreement with Comcast, the NFL Network will reach about 45 million subscribers -- about half of the total pay TV market.

Goodell said the NFL will be working to resolve differences it has with other major cable operators that don't carry the network -- including Time Warner Cable Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Charter Communications Inc.

"I'm very hopeful we will get this resolved," he said.

Comcast also reached an agreement with ESPN to add ESPNU to its lineup heading into the upcoming college football season. Comcast will make ESPN360.com available to its Internet customers as well.