The NFL has frozen expansion of the Dallas Cowboys Channel and the launch of a digital RSN for the Tampa Bay Bucs in Tampa and Orlando with Bright House Networks until a "definitive strategy can be put into place," the league said last week. At launch in Aug, partners Comcast and the Cowboys anticipated carriage beyond TX, bringing ‘America’s Team’ to Los Angeles, AR, NM and AZ; the league has put expansion outside the Lone Star State on hold. Given the obvious promotional opportunities afforded by having a dedicated TV outlet for the local team, every NFL franchise now wants in. Trouble is, there’s no established directive for how the clubs may pursue these nets. "The league, as with everything it does, provides guidance. Instead of having 32 different blueprints, we want to provide one coherent outline," says Seth Palansky, speaking for the NFL and NFL Net. There’s no drop-dead date for such a strategy to be drawn up, he adds. (Don’t expect any headway to be made until after the Super Bowl, at the very least.) Of crucial importance to the NFL is improving programming quality. Comcast-backed FalconVision is said to be an underwhelming pastiche of coaches’ shows and player biographies, repeated in a leisurely 4-hr loop; it’s the 1st team-launched network. By contrast, the more ambitious Cowboys net boasts a wider variety of shows, including a regular program that covers the minutia of the team’s very popular cheerleaders. Since both channels lack live regular season games, the league is looking at taking advantage of the digital platform. "Maybe there should be more emphasis on developing a VOD product," Palansky says in a nod to Comcast’s success with NFL On-Demand in Philly. "It’s a perfect fit, especially when you’re having a hard time filling a full lineup of content. Instead of repeating a coach’s shows 6 times a day, why not make it available on VOD?" Other leagues have similar thoughts. NHL evp/COO Jon Litner-who has plenty of free time these days to mull things over-says pro hockey already has won hearts and minds with its on-demand offering in Canada. And while leagues can get fidgety about their intellectual property (the NFL tends to watch over its brand like a jailer), Litner doesn’t expect owners of sports teams to block VOD. "There’s a much greater sophistication in the leagues," Litner says. "They’re in the content business now, like Viacom or Disney. They’re not there to play landlord." — The NFL insists the slowdown has nothing to do with its $100mln investment in NFL Net. "We’ve heard that in different channels, and it’s just overstated," Palansky contends. — Comcast confirmed the league asked it to downshift its Cowboys plan, but didn’t offer a timeline for when it might be able to return to high gear. Other MSOs say pro football teams in their markets are interested in starting nets, but the NFL mandate has put the kibosh on moving past the initial fact-finding stage.

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