DirecTV Shows Elusive NFL Network on Giant Blimp-Screen

As lawsuits fly back and forth between the NFL and Comcast, the DirecTV Starship is floating above Florida showing NFL Network exclusive games on a 70-×-30-foot video display.

Last week, DirecTV brought emergency relief to football-deprived fans in Florida. DirecTV's blimp, the DirecTV Starship, also elevated the scrimmage between cable companies and the NFL Network by showing games on the 70-×-30-foot display it calls the world's largest aerial digital screen.

It's not certain how well fans could actually see the games on the flying TV. But the gimmick highlights the availability of the National Football League-owned network on DirecTV's basic packages.

Many cable operators offer the NFL Network only on a separate sports tier or not at all; the cable companies have said the NFL demands too much money for the channel, which is carrying eight NFL games and some college bowl games this season.

"Once again, big cable is simply reluctant to enhance the programming options they provide their customers," said Jon Gieselman, senior vice president for advertising and public relations at DirecTV.

The flyover began last Thursday, Dec. 13, in Tampa with the Broncos–Texans game. They continued Saturday, Dec. 15, above St. Petersburg for the Bengals–49ers, and then on to the Orlando area for the Thursday, Dec. 20, Steelers–Rams matchup and the Saturday Cowboys–Panthers game on Dec. 22.

The blimp's 2,100-square-foot display has a resolution of 33,600 total pixels, the largest ever made for a blimp, according to DirecTV.

The NFL–cable kerfluffle is no trivial matter in Texas, where the near-blackout of the Nov. 29 Cowboys–Packers matchup caused nearly as many hard feelings as the Alamo. The issue has reached the halls of power — or at least, the Texas statehouse and various small-town councils.

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell were in Austin Monday pushing legislation to get the channel on more TVs.

And a smattering of small-town Texas mayors have written the FCC urging big-government intervention in the programming marketplace.

The elders of Caddo Mills, Texas, even passed a resolution on the matter — "an emergency measure necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, safety, welfare and dignity of the residents of the City of Caddo Mills," it read.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tried to intervene in a similar tussle in New England, in an attempt to increase cable viewership for the New England Patriots–New York Giants game on Dec. 29, but Comcast, the nation's largest cable company declined his offer.

And Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Telecom Subcommittee, urged the parties to resolve the issue before the game, which will be the Patriot's last game of the regular season, when they could be shooting for a 16–0 record.

"If the Patriots succeed in reaching the culmination of the regular season in undefeated fashion, the NFL and the cable operators shouldn't fumble this compelling game away for millions of fans," Markey said in a statement filled with football metaphors. "It's time for all sides to start their two-minute drill to reach the end zone on a deal that protects fans and cable ratepayers alike."

In a separate development, last Thursday Comcast sued the NFL in federal court, trying to make the league stop its campaign urging fans to drop their Comcast subscriptions over the matter.

The NFL is weighing a suit against Comcast for retransmitting the Dec. 13 Broncos–Texans game in secondary markets, instead of only Denver, per their retransmission agreement.