NFL, Comcast reach agreement

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 into other major cable TV operators that do not yet carry the network.

Comcast and the National Football League said today they had reached an agreement for the nation’s largest cable operator to carry the football channel on its second-most popular digital cable tier.

The deal spans 10 years and would cost Comcast 40 cents to 45 cents per subscriber to get the NFL Network, 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.

The 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 Comcast’s Versus sports channel.

The impasse nearly led to a blackout of the NFL Network on Comcast on May 1, when their 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.

“Our goal has always been to provide our digital customers with access to the NFL’s unique content and, working together, we have struck the right balance between value and distribution on a variety of viewing platforms,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement. “We are looking forward to bringing the NFL’s programming to our customers just in time for the start of the NFL season.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was “very pleased” with the deal.

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