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Hindery: Gap is Still Wide

8/03/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

Two former cable executives recently named to help mediate the Cablevision Systems Corp.-Yankees Entertainment & Sports carriage negotiations might not be enough to iron out the differences between the two parties, according to YES chairman Leo Hindery.

Two weeks ago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg named former Madison Square Garden president Robert Gutkowski and former NBC Cable president Tom Rogers as facilitators to help craft a long-term affiliation deal between the regional sports network that's home to baseball's New York Yankees and the MSO.

The current one-year agreement — signed this past April, just hours before the Yankees played their season opener — calls for Cablevision to pay YES $2.12 per month for half of its subscriber base, as well as for each subscriber who purchases the regional sports network on an à la carte basis. In addition to 130 Yankees baseball games, YES also airs New Jersey Nets pro basketball contests.

The two sides continue to disagree over carriage and licensing-fee terms, and Hindery doesn't believe that Gutkowski, who was recommended by YES, and Cablevision appointee Rogers will be able to close the gap.

"With all due respect to that process, it's a principal-to-principal dispute," he said. "We obviously welcome any opportunity to bring resolution to it, but it's unlikely that this is going to do it.

"[Cablevision CEO] Jimmy [Dolan] has his perspective and we have ours. If anybody can bring it to closure we're grateful, but I'm not optimistic that Bob or Tom can find pathways that Jimmy or I couldn't find on our own," he added.

If the two sides don't come to an agreement by February 2004, the parties would submit their claims to an arbitrator, who would determine the parameters of a permanent agreement.

Cablevision would not comment on the matter.

For his part, Hindery said YES is "comfortable" with its position that the network should be offered on a basic-cable tier.

"All we believe is fair market value of programming, regardless of who owns you," Hindery said. "I continue to be dismayed by some of the hypocrisy of some in the industry who treat independents differently than they treat their own services."

The reference is to MSOs that have lobbied for moving high-priced sports services to a tier, but don't offer the same option for their owned-and-operated sports services.

Cablevision, after balking at YES's basic-carriage requests that kept the network off its systems in 2002, is now offering its own New York area regional sports channels — Fox Sports New York and Madison Square Garden Network, the Yankees' former cable home — along with YES for $4.95 per month. Each of the networks is also available on an à la carte basis for $1.95 per month.

Beginning July 29, Time Warner Cable gave its subscribers the option to reduce their cable bill by $1 per month by dropping YES.

New Time Warner subscribers signing up after July 29 would have the option of purchasing YES for $1 per month, system executives said.

 

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April