Must see TV: Dispute sidelines Charter customers
While there's a chance—albeit a slim one—that the big game might air on Channel 27, the ABC affiliate in Madison, local Charter customers who want to be certain they see the game will need to find a friend or bar that subscribes to a satellite provider that carries the NFL Network, which has exclusive television rights to the game.
Or they could drive to Green Bay or Milwaukee, which the NFL designates as the Packers' home markets. In those areas, the game will be carried by WISN, the Milwaukee ABC affiliate, and WFRV, the CBS affiliate in Green Bay.
Channel 27, the Madison market's official Packers TV station, has asked the NFL Network for permission to carry the game, said Jessica Miller, Channel 27's programming manager.
The answer was no, Miller said, adding that the station has heard that Charter asked the NFL Network to air this particular game in Wisconsin markets outside Green Bay and Milwaukee.
John Miller, a Charter spokesman, said the NFL could make that decision, which Charter "certainly supports and would demonstrate that they have the best interests of fans at heart."
Charter and Time-Warner, the two largest cable providers in Wisconsin, don't carry either the NFL Network or the Big Ten Network. Both want to carry the networks on their digital sports tier for fans willing to pay more to cover programming costs.
The two networks want their programming on the basic service, as it is with Direct TV, Dish and 243 other providers around the country.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville has asked the Federal Communications Commission to appoint an arbitrator to settle such disputes.
"We've reached out to Charter, and they've repeatedly told us that from their customers, there isn't that much interest in the NFL Network," said Seth Palansky, a spokesman for the network.
"But what we're hearing is that football is important to the people of Wisconsin, at least as important as the eight shopping channels Charter has in its basic package."
Charter's Miller said the issue boils down to cost, which for sports programming such as the NFL and Big Ten networks is significantly higher.
"If the cost of the NFL Network was anywhere close to the cost of any of those eight shopping channels, we would have had it a long time ago," Miller said, adding that Charter can't justify passing the higher costs of sports programming on to a customer base that might have intense interest in one game, but not in the network as a whole.
"Unfortunately, this is the way sports is heading," Miller said. "We used to get all the Badger and Packer games over the air. Now the leagues have established their own networks, taken the games back and are making them available on a significant per-customer fee basis."
Miller said Charter customers express little interest in the NFL Network other than when the network has a Packer game.
"Packer fans are pretty creative," he said. "They'll make alternative plans and after Thursday night, life will go on."