By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman

TV Answer Man, Comcast is the biggest cable service there is and you’re telling me that they can’t carry the NFL Network?! They have the money so why didn’t they just give the NFL what everyone gives them? I don’t get it. Do they want to lose subscribers? — Eddie, Deale, Maryland. 

Eddie, Comcast yesterday lost both the NFL Network and the NFL RedZone in a carriage dispute with the channels’ owner, the National Football League. The move surprised some football fans who rely on the NFL Network for news about the league, particularly during the off-season when other sports channels reduce their football coverage.

Update: Comcast and the league have worked out their differences with a new agreement. The NFL Network is back in the Comcast lineup on Tuesday, May 2. It’s unclear if the agreement is short term or long term. We will provide more details if we get them later today. And now we return to today’s earlier analysis which basically has become null and void. 

Update #2: Comcast spokesperson this morning issued this statement to The TV Answer Man:

“We’ve reached a new agreement with NFL Network and NFL RedZone and are pleased to provide their content to our customers.”

We’ve reiterated our inquiry as to whether the deal is short term or multiple years. We will update if we get more. End of update

However, Comcast’s decision to refuse the NFL’s carriage terms is not too surprising when put in the context of today’s economy and the state of the pay TV industry.

Cable and satellite TV operators have lost millions of customers in the last few years due to cord-cutting and high programming prices. While Comcast is still the nation’s largest video service, the company has not been immune to this trend. The cable operator revealed just last week that it lost 614,000 video subs in the first quarter of 2023 and it lost more than two million in 2022.

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Comcast needs to find ways to reduce spending to help offset the loss in subscriber revenue and not paying the NFL now fits perfectly with its plan. This is May 2 and there won’t be any regular season games for four months. There won’t even be a pre-season game for three months. The NFL Network does a splendid job of providing off-season news but interest in the channel wanes this time of the year.

Even better for Comcast, the NFL Draft finished on Saturday (April 29) which further reduces viewership. Barring a major trade or incident, there is no single event that should trigger a renewed intense interest in the NFL Network until summer. (There’s also little risk in not carrying the NFL RedZone Channel because the channel only airs during regular season games, which start in September.)

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By allowing the blackout to begin now, Comcast can save money on carriage fees until later in the year when it will need to pay up or risk significant customer defections. I have little doubt that a settlement will come before the season begins. (John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reports that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have already discussed the dispute.)

Eddie, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann