Comcast Corp. is axing the NFL Network for millions of its Xfinity customers on its most affordable cable package because of a recent deal between Fox Sports and the National Football League.
Consumers again seem to be caught between pay-TV distributors and big entertainment companies.
Earlier this year, Fox outbid Comcast-owned NBC for the Thursday NFL games, agreeing to pay $550 million to $650 million a year for 11 games a season, according to ESPN and Bleacher Report. Many believe that Fox wildly overpaid for the Thursday night games that have some of the lowest Nielsen ratings for NFL games — costs that will be partly borne through special “retransmission fees” buried in cable- and satellite-TV bills.
The five-year Fox deal, announced on Jan. 31, also freed Comcast from contract terms with the NFL that forced it to distribute the NFL Network on its “digital starter” 140-channel cable bundle when NBC was airing those Thursday night games. The digital starter packages cost $59.99 a month.
On July 1, Comcast will discontinue the NFL Network on digital starter and make it available on its 220-channel “digital preferred” package, which costs $69.99 without a contract.
The NFL Network were first reported by trade publication Cablefax. Comcast has begun informing its customers.
A Comcast spokeswoman confirmed the changes on Monday and said that customers were being informed. She also said that the NFL Network was carried on the Xfinity digital preferred package before NBC began airing the games two years ago and it would now return to digital preferred.
“It’s not going away,” she said.
The NFL Network was not immediately available for comment. In addition to its Thursday night games, the network televises the NFL draft.
The loss of the NFL Network is only the latest development for the Thursday night football games that are available in multiple locations and paid for multiple times by consumers.
The NFL Network itself costs about $1.50 a month in cable bills. Cable- and satellite-TV customers also shell out retransmission fees that Fox, CBS, and NBC charge pay-TV operators to distribute their programming, including live sports. CBS also has aired NFL’s Thursday night games.
In addition, the NFL has licensed some of its Thursday nights to the streaming service Amazon Prime and the NFL Mobile app on Verizon service, according to Consumer Reports.
The action on NFL Network follows Comcast’s recent decision to curb the distribution of the Big Ten Network to millions of households outside of the Big Ten Conference footprint in the Northeast United States, the Midwest, and the Plains States.