Massive Increase For NFL's TV Rights Throws Cablers For A Loss

By David Lieberman, Patrick Hipes

Cable operators are gearing up for a brutal scrimmage with broadcasters over program licensing fees — and consumer pay TV rates — following this week’s agreement by CBS, NBC, and Fox to pay an estimated $27.5B to air NFL games from 2014 through 2022. The new figure is up 63% from the previous contracts. In order for all of the media partners to break even under the new contract, Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce estimates that the average pay TV subscriber would have to pay $11.23 a month — up $6.87 from the break-even number from the previous NFL contract that ends in 2013. Although nobody expects consumer bills to rise that much anytime soon, the estimates indicate how motivated broadcasters will be to press for higher retransmission consent fees from pay TV companies. Joyce says that the deals were probably cut now so the networks and affiliated TV stations can prepare for their negotiations with cable and satellite companies.

Distributors say they intend to hold the line at a time when many of their customers are looking for cheaper alternatives. “Congress and the Federal Communications Commission need to throw a flag, because rules and regulations shouldn’t force consumers to bear the burden of broadcasters’ profligate spending, which will surely enrich NFL owners and players just as much as it will impoverish all pay-TV subscribers, particularly those who will never watch an NFL game,” says American Cable Association CEO Matthew Polka.

But broadcasters have their own challenges that would have made it risky to pass up even a high-priced deal with the NFL. It would have been “catastrophic” for them if the rights had gone to an online player such as Google, Amazon or Apple, Moody’s Investors Service says. That “would have been the watershed event that negatively changed the landscape for television entertainment delivery and likely led to more such losses of exclusive sports programming.” The debt rating firm says it considers the NFL deal a positive for CBS, NBC, and Fox predicting that they’ll recoup much of the revenue they need from higher ad prices.

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