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NFL Network offering free week

NEW YORK (Dec. 12, 2006) -- The NFL has offered one free week of its network programming to two cable TV operators who do not carry the channel in hopes of breaking a deadlock.

Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Associated Press that the week of Dec. 24-30 would be offered as a "free view" for customers of Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, two of the nation's largest cable carriers. The NFL Network would be offered on the expanded basic levels of the two carriers.

Neither Cablevision nor Time Warner carry NFL Network. Three regular-season Thursday night games already have not been available to those customers -- except in the markets of the participating teams, where the games aired on broadcast stations.

It is not unusual for cable channels such as HBO and Showtime to offer such free weeks to increase their subscribers.

Although the free view will not include the Saturday night game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, it will include the Texas Bowl featuring Rutgers vs. Kansas State on Dec. 28 and the Insight Bowl with Minnesota vs. Texas Tech on Dec. 29.

"This morning we are communicating to Time Warner and Cablevision that we are going to give them an opportunity for what we call a free view," Goodell said. "Cable operators do it all the time. It's so that the consumer can experience our network for a week and get the two college bowl games."

The Texas Bowl not being available to many viewers in New York has become a contentious issue because Rutgers is coming off its best Big East season and has become a popular team in the area. The NFL Network owns the rights to the Rutgers-Kansas State bowl game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

"We are trying to accommodate consumers, our fans and the fans of Rutgers, to let them know we are trying to resolve this issue," said Goodell, who said he also has spoken with Gov. Jon Corzine and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

"The bottom line is that people in New Jersey need to be able to watch Rutgers play, and now we have a way to do that," said Lautenberg.

"We think this is a very good opportunity for people to see not only those two games, but the NFL Network," Goodell added. "We certainly believe cable operators will see it the same way."

Spokesmen at Cablevision and Time Warner Cable did not immediately return calls for comment.

"From the NFL's perspective, they want to generate consumer support," said John Mansell, senior analyst at Kagan Research, a media analysis company. "It's not unusual for any new network to offer their service free, but typically for an extended period of time. Even then, most cable operators are reluctant to bite because of the problems they might face in taking it off the air. ... It's very difficult for the cable company to take anything away from the subscriber."

The NFL Network is available in about 40 million of the 111 million homes with TVs. In comparison, ESPN, which airs Monday night games, is available in 92 million.

Thus far, Thursday night games have featured the Broncos at the Chiefs on Thanksgiving night; the Ravens at the Bengals on Nov. 30; and the Browns at the Steelers on Dec. 7. This week, there are two NFL Network games: San Francisco at Seattle on Dec. 14, and Dallas at Atlanta on Dec. 16.

Time Warner has said it is balking at a demand from the NFL that the network be carried on the most widely available basic service lineup rather than on a special tier.

NBC bought the rights to Sunday night games this year under a six-year deal with the league. ESPN is paying for Monday Night Football for eight years. Last year, the NFL reached six-year extensions with Fox and CBS for Sunday afternoon games.

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