CBS Sports cameraman

DirecTV pays $1 billion a season for the rights to all Sunday afternoon NFL games under an exclusive deal that runs through next season. Above, a CBS Sports cameraman during a game between the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos in September 2012. (Jack Dempsey / Associated Press / September 23, 2012)

"RedZone is a pretty good substitute product for Sunday Ticket," said Brian Bedol, chief executive of Bedrocket Media Ventures and a former sports television executive.

Vince Wladika, a sports media strategist, said RedZone led him to drop Sunday Ticket this season.

"RedZone gives me what I need," he said — and for only $5 to $6 a month.

At an analysts' meeting last year, DirecTV Chief Financial Officer Patrick Doyle suggested that the company might be willing to give up its exclusive hold on Sunday Ticket if the price tag got too high.

That would be good news to cable operators such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, which for years have longed to get their hands on Sunday Ticket.

But the NFL risks upsetting Fox and CBS if Sunday Ticket's availability went from just 20 million DirecTV subscribers to 100 million cable and satellite homes, or via the Internet.

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Wider distribution of Sunday Ticket could do serious harm to the ratings of the local TV stations that carry Fox and CBS football. The NFL used to give Fox and CBS a small piece of DirecTV's rights fees — about $10 million for each network — to compensate for any lost viewers, but that practice stopped several years ago.

For DirecTV, losing exclusivity to Sunday Ticket probably wouldn't hurt its bottom line. However, not carrying Sunday Ticket at all is a big risk.

"They would lose subscribers and their competitive advantage," said Marc Ganis, head of consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. If all the NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers went elsewhere, Ganis said, it would cost DirecTV billions in subscriber fees.

The length of the next contract is one of the hang-ups in the talks, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations. DirecTV is interested in a contract as long as eight years, while the NFL would prefer a five-year commitment.

A DirecTV insider who declined to speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the talks said an exclusive deal with the NFL would probably get done in the coming months, but it might be the last one.

One reason cited by industry observers is that as the NFL seeks to exploit new opportunities and create additional revenue streams, the value of an exclusive package with one distributor could diminish both for the league and the provider.

"With all the new platforms coming," Bedol said, "by the time the next Sunday Ticket deal comes up, it will be obsolete."