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NFL, Comcast settle NFL Network carriage dispute, agree to 10-year deal

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

Comcast and the NFL said Tuesday that 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 Tuesday 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.

  -- NFL commissioner 

Roger Goodell

The NFL also announced extensions with broadcast partners Fox and CBS, taking those deals through the 2014 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 an extra $8 per 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 the cable operator didn't receive 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. However, the two sides 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 approximately 45 million subscribers -- about half of the total pay TV market.

"We've turned a new page," Roberts said. "This is the beginning of a new chapter for us in working with the NFL."

Goodell added that it was "important for me to reach out to Brian. He's the CEO of a major media company ... We don't want to be fighting with our partners. We want to create value."

Goodell also said the NFL will work to resolve any 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.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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