UPDATE — Monday, Oct. 8
The National Hockey League today officially confirmed the U.S. cable operators launching the NHL Network on a market-by-market basis — Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and also Bright House Networks — and confirmed that DirecTV and Dish Network are on board.
While these distributors represent more than 75 million homes, only a fraction of those cable homes subscribe to digital cable, where cable operators are primarily launching the channel on their sports tiers.
Offering 50 games customized to U.S. hockey fans in its first year, an NHL spokesperson yesterday said the league will launch a full-time HD channel in the U.S. later this month, "offering all of the games in HD."
At least one market of avid (some might say rabid) U.S. hockey fans — Time Warner Cable’s 310,000-subscriber Buffalo and Western NY region — will have to wait for the channel. "It’s under consideration, but we won’t carry it immediately," TWC Buffalo spokesperson Robin Wolfgang tells Business First of Buffalo today. "It’s a matter of finding room and bandwidth."
EARLIER — Thursday Oct. 4 Time Warner Cable today officially confirmed its deal with the National Hockey League to launch the NHL Network on a sports tier. As we reported yesterday, the channel is now on a sports tier in TWC‘s NY/NJ market, and coming to other TWC divisions including San Antonio.
Time Warner wasn’t the only U.S. cable operator to launch the league’s network on Oct. 1 to coincide with the start of the regular season.
Bright House Networks, which has a deal to piggyback on Time Warner Cable’s programming contracts, will launch the NHL Network on its Central Florida division’s sports tier next month.
All of Bright House’s Orlando-area digital cable subscribers can check out the channel starting Tuesday, when a free preview of the channel will be available through Nov. 7.
Cablevision also said it will launch the NHL Network by the end of this month.
Comcast, which is helping bring the NHL Network to the U.S. as part of its Versus hockey deal (back when it was called OLN), hasn’t officially announced its roll-out plans. Fans were hoping the NHL Network would start launching on Comcast systems this week.
At least one Comcast market is confirmed, with this legal notice announcing the channel’s "on or after Oct. 16" launch to Comcast’s Pittsburgh-area customers. It also looks like the network is coming to Comcast’s Livingston, NJ, customers.
The network’s schedule includes 50 regular season games, subject to local blackout restrictions in the U.S., plus its signature series NHL on the Fly and other complementary programming to keep hockey fans sated on a 24/7 basis.
"All live NHL games will be televised in High Definition on the full time HD feed," says NHL Network spokesperson Andrea Goldstein.
"We expect to be able to launch NHL Network over the coming weeks on our sports tier," a Comcast spokesperson commented. "We also expect to carry the HD channel as well."
A Time Warner Cable spokesperson confirmed it’s launching the NHL Network market by market in standard definition, with the HD channel rollout still being worked out.
Select NHL games are available in high-def in the U.S. on Versus and on HDNet, which this week launched a weekly show, Inside the NHL, to enhance its hockey coverage.
Some hockey games in the NHL’s out-of-market Center Ice package are also in HD. A handful of major U.S. cable operators — including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cox, Bright House and Cablevision — this week announced renewed carriage of In Demand Networks‘ Center Ice subscription package.
In Demand is offering a free preview through Tuesday to whet fans’ appetites for the $149/season (which jumps to $169 after Tuesday) package, which is adding a four-screen mosaic to rotate live hockey games.
DirecTV and Dish Network also renewed their respective carriage agreements with the NHL for Center Ice.
* Click here for an update on the NHL’s deals with U.S. cable and satellite operators.