Wednesday, December 6, 2006

NFL Network Can't Beat Dog Show, Smackdown, Skins Game

They've finally posted the television ratings for Thanksgiving week. The Broncos-Chiefs game shown (they say) on the NFL Network doesn't crack the top 14, beaten by such "sports" programming as the National Dog Show, with 4.8 milliion households, Friday Night Smackdown, with 2.8 million households, and The Skins Game, with 2.3 million households. Publicly available sports ratings only list broadcast programs, but it says here that the only 1.8 million households watched the football game.

The NFL Network claims it has 41 million subscribers. For the Thanksgiving night game to have drawn more eyes than some exhibition golf event, a mere seven percent of subscribers needed to watch the game. Aside from the chalk covering in the first two weeks, this tells us two things:

1) Most who currently subscribe to the NFL Network do so unwittingly because they don't care about the games. The cable companies argue that it makes little financial sense to put this channel on the "basic cable" tier because ratings prove that over 93% of cable customers who have access to the NFL Network aren't interested in this programming. However, the NFL Network responds that most cable channels are provided in just this fashion. You don't want Lifetime or Oxygen channels, but you pay for them anyway.

2) The cities likely to give the NFL Network its highest possible viewership still can't access the channel without subscribing to a satellite service. Cities served by Time Warner include Buffalo, Cleveland, Dallas, Cincinnati, L.A., New York, Houston, Charlotte and Green Bay. Then there's a company called Bright House Cable, which monopolizes Tampa, Orlando and Indianapolis. Charter Cable won't let you watch the NFL Network in St. Louis or Madison.

Both sides have spent millions campaigning for your vote, and I'm not pleased with either of them. If cable companies weren't granted monopoly powers, I could subcribe to Verizon's FIOS service and get the NFL Network. If the NFL didn't allow DirecTV a monopoly over NFL Sunday Ticket (subscribing to Sunday Ticket gets you the NFL Network), I could buy that package and watch all the games I wished. Both parties in this debate are anti-consumer. How about some free market cable franchise reform?

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