Thanks to a couple of really big games from ageless quarterback Brett Favre, Walt Disney Co.'s sports cable channel ESPN had its best season ever carrying the NFL's "Monday Night Football" franchise.
ESPN, which shells out about $1.1 billion a year for its football package, said "Monday Night Football" was the most-watched show on cable television this fall. This is ESPN's fourth year of "Monday Night Football," and its current deal expires after the 2013 season. Among all the rights holders for the game, it holds the most expensive contract.
The strong ratings come just as programming costs are a major issue in the cable industry and will give ESPN some cover when cable-system operators gripe about how much they will be forced to pay to carry the channel. Time Warner Cable is embroiled in a big fight with News Corp. over the costs of carrying several channels, including Fox's local TV stations and FX.
With a price tag of almost $4 a month per subscriber, ESPN is the most expensive cable network for cable and satellite distributors. Strong ratings are key for the channel to justify its high cost. For Disney, which owns 80% of ESPN, the cable channel is a crucial revenue driver. Hearst Corp. owns the remaining 20%.