Thursday, February 7, 2008

Inside the NFL: 1977-2008

HBO put a damper on the post-Super Bowl euphoria by canceling Inside the NFL, ending arguably the best sports show on television, not to mention a mid-week ritual for many fans.

HBO didn't give an explanation as to why they pulled the plug, but my guess is that the NFL cut off HBO from making the show so they could re-create it on the NFL Network and therefore create more demand for its channel. Inside the NFL depended on NFL Films for its distinctive highlight segments. NFL Films is owned by the NFL. We all know that the NFL has been pushing hard the past few years to promote its NFL Network. To get critical mass, fans have to feel they need the Network - that it's doing more than showing documentaries on the 1979 Rams. Moving actual games to the Network has perhaps been too aggressive, as this year's Pats-Giants season finale controversy showed. But moving an established highlights show to the Network might be the perfect move: it gives NFL Network a show that has a loyal viewership, made entirely of people who are used to paying for premium channels anyway, while not angering the general fan base the way moving a large number of actual games would.

The AP article mentioned that NFL Films would be "looking to continue the show in conjunction with another network in the fall," but it's hard to imagine this being anyone other than the NFL Network. First, because the NFL owns NFL Network; second, because the show's extended discussion format is built around a no-advertisement setup, which wouldn't be possible on any of the major networks or cable channels.

If this is what's going on, then it's a victory for League avarice and a loss for football fans. As for me, I'll consider getting the NFL Network - if they can throw in The Sopranos and Rome as well.

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