At almost 6 p.m. Thursday, Time Warner had not yet restored the NFL Network to its newly acquired Adelphia and Comcast systems as it sought some avenue of appeal.
At about 10:30 a.m., the FCC let the press know it had ordered Time Warner to restore the network to those systems "immediately," An FCC spokeswoman was trying to determine at press time what "immediate" meant precisely, what appeal process Time Warner might have, and what the FCC's recourse for noncompliance might be.
The FCC said the NFL had made a case that the Time Warner move could do the network "irreparable harm," while keeping it on would not pose a similar hardship on Time Warner, since the carriage fight between NFL Network and the cable operator was not that Time Warner didn't want the channel, but that it didn't want it at NFL's price or terms.
The NFL "is not on at this moment," said Time Warner spokesman Mark Harrad. "We're reviewing the order to see what avenues of appeal are available to us. Whatever action we take will be dependent on that." It was not clear whether that would be an FCC appeal or a court challenge.
The FCC has not ruled on an NFL Network program carriage complaint filed earlier this week against Time Warner, but it has concluded that it is in the public's interest to keep the network on Time Warner while it tries to resolve it.
In that complaint, the NFL argued that Time Warner did not give the requisite 30-day notice before it pulled the network Aug. 1. Time Warner says it did. The FCC Thursday said the NFL Network had made a sufficient case for insufficient notice to warrant restoring the network while it judged the complaint.
Time Warner wants the NFL network to anchor a digital sports tier, while NFL wants to be in the most popular basic package.
The NFL is said to be asking $100 million for the package, or in the neighborhood of 90 cents per sub per month. If so, that is high by cable network standards. At the high end, ESPN gets three dollars a sub, but the bulk of top-tier cable nets are in the 20 cent-50 cent range.
The NFL Network has acquired some negotiating muscle since getting a package of regular-season games, the first in its history.