Friday, May 02, 2008

Off Season in the NFL Network debate?

Apparently not. Sorry to interrupt your Friday with more debate on the NFL Network's carriage issues, but this item, however small, struck me as interesting.

The South Carolina State Senate held a public hearing on cable antidiscrimination and dispute resolution yesterday, complete with a representative from the NFL and a president of the Carolina Panters. (From The State)...

"Mark Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, asked South Carolina to become the first state to put in place an arbitration system aimed at forcing major cable networks to feature the NFL Network as part of their basic digital programming packages.

Such disputes normally are settled by the FCC, but Richardson and others told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee the federal process is too slow and ineffective and that states have the authority to intervene when their consumers’ best interest are not being served."

Here is the PR Newswire release from Football 24/7 Carolina (notice the typo at the end when it refers to consumers in "North" Carolina, as opposed to "South", where the news originated. At least it seems like a typo).

Same theme from Richardson as it has been, the NFL Network is being discriminated against.
"Simply put, NFL Network is treated unfairly because it is not owned by a cable company. Those cable companies have 'bottleneck' power -- they control access to their customers, so they are able to pay more attention to their profit margins than what their customers want," said Richardson. "As a result, our fans aren't getting the programming they want."

The result? The South Carolina Senate chose not to act, effectively killing any potential legislation possibility for 2008.

That said, this episode provides insight to the NFL Network's strategy. It appears the NFLN is fed up with the FCC's lack of progress on a resolution. The FCC still has not ruled on XM-Sirius and is potentially facing hearings into Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy Newsday (great episode of NPR's OnPoint about this on Wednesday).

As a result, the NFLN is mobilizing grassroots organizations to pressure state legislatures to resolve the carriage. I have not decided whether I think this is a creative lobbying strategy, or an act of desperation. I need to see whether the NFLN engages other state legislatures in similar lobbying strategies before deciding. Right now, I am leaning toward smart business strategy.


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