Canada next stop for NFL Network

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Few in TV Land have had it so good, so fast as the NFL Network.

With more than 20 million U.S. subscribers on board within a year of its November 2003 launch date, the league-owned channel became the quickest success story of the cable and satellite television era.

Now it's poised to take over all of North America.

League officials expect the NFL Network should find its way onto television sets in Canada and Mexico sometime in 2005. The network already has cleared the major hurdle in this country -- gaining CRTC licence approval. Now it's just a matter of gaining digital cable and satellite carriage.

"It could (be on the air) in January, it could be in June," NFL Network spokesman Seth Polansky told the Sun recently. "It's just a matter of making deals with local cable and satellite companies.

"NFL games have aired in Canada for a long time, and we have a good relationship with a lot of providers. It won't be difficult ... we're only asking for digital carriage."

In this area, at least, expect Rogers digital and Bell ExpressVu -- which already offer the league's NFL Sunday Ticket premium package -- to scoop up the channel in short order.

Last year, the NFL Network aired 54 pre-season games (there are no plans to put regular-season matchups on the channel). It also offers daily news shows, press conferences and all-access material other networks can't get.

NFL Films, which has earned 87 Sports Emmys over the years, contributes archival material as well as expertise on new innovative projects. The latest: Condensed, one-hour rebroadcasts of games, with the only audio supplied by 16 players and coaches wearing wireless microphones.

"The players all watch the network," said Polansky. "We're in every stadium in the league."

And soon enough, in homes across Canada.

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT: Sure, the NHL lockout contributed to TSN's rousing audience numbers during the world junior hockey championship. But to suggest it was largely a product of viewers "starved for hockey" just isn't right. The tournament has been a hit for years, and the 2003 final in Halifax (when the NHL was in full flight) remains TSN's most-watched program ever. What's more impressive about this year's numbers: They were so high for Canadian games that, quite frankly, lacked any real drama.

AROUND THE DIAL: Better teams mean more viewers, it would appear. Fox finished with a 10.1 ratings average for its NFC games this season, while CBS' AFC pulled in 9.7 -- the closest margin between the two since CBS got back into the NFL game in 1998 ... Playoff time means bonus editions of ESPN's NFL Countdown (11 a.m.) and NFL Primetime (midnight) tomorrow on TSN.


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