Cable Rivals Step Up to the Dish

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DirecTV Inc. and RCN Corp. last week moved to capitalize on Time Warner Cable’s loss of New York Mets telecasts, as there appeared to be no resolution in sight to the MSO’s dispute with Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports Net New York.

Direct-broadcast satellite leader DirecTV last Wednesday began running ads in several New York area newspapers in an effort to steal away dispirited Time Warner Cable subscribers angered by the Aug. 1 removal of Cablevision Systems’ Corp.-owned MSGN and FSNY, both of which televise Mets Major League Baseball games.

DirecTV executives said the ads — slated to run at least through Aug. 8 — would continue to reference that day’s Mets opponent and the fact that Time Warner’s approximately 2.4 million area subscribers do not have access to the games.

Last Thursday’s ad even referred to the club’s recent acquisition of pitcher Victor Zambrano with the following headline: “Mets vs. Brewers — Zambrano Debuts, Read About It Tomorrow Because You Won’t See It On Time Warner Cable!”

The ad campaign is reminiscent of a similar New York media blitz DirecTV engaged in two years ago to exploit the carriage battle between the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and Cablevision. DirecTV claims it saw a 186% increase in customer activations in Cablevision zip codes due to the six-week campaign — which began in February 2002 — compared to the same period in 2001.

DirecTV executives wouldn’t say how many new customers that translated into, or predict how many subscribers it may gain from the MSGN-Time Warner dispute.

Overbuilder RCN also took jabs at Time Warner last Friday with an ad in the recently launched Metro, which is offered free weekdays to New York City commuters. RCN executives could not be reached for comment at press time to determine if the company would continue the messaging or expand it to other newspapers in the area.

CLUBHOUSE SPATTING

For their part, both MSGN and Time Warner Cable continued to run ads in area newspapers stating their positions in the dispute.

And the programmer ramped up its rhetoric last week, deriding Time Warner Cable for not carrying the networks over proposed licensing fee hikes. On Friday, MSGN president Mike McCarthy said in a statement that while the Mets swept a three-game series from the Milwaukee Brewers, “Time Warner Cable customers got swept under the rug by a company that does not care they can’t see the games. Time Warner Cable has rejected all offers to continue carrying these two channels, even though we have offered fair and reasonable rates 30% below those that Time Warner Cable agreed to pay the YES Network,” the statement continued.

“Time Warner Cable should respond to the growing public outcry over its outrageous, anti-consumer actions and immediately restore these channels, which feature some of New York’s most valued and popular sports programming,” he said.

Cablevision also teamed with DirecTV to hold an Aug. 4 viewing party for some 200 Mets fans at a Manhattan sports bar. DirecTV executives said no other “parties” were scheduled.

In the Time Warner dugout, a spokesman said the MSO has received phone calls from subscribers regarding the loss of the channels, but said that it hasn’t been an “extraordinary amount.”

He added that many of the callers expressed appreciation for the MSO’s $2-per-month rebate, which the operator is offering while the networks are off the air.

“We’d like to return MSGN and Fox Sports New York to our customers,” said the spokesman. “Unfortunately, we’re prevented from doing that by Cablevision, which is still not willing to grant us an extension, nor are they willing to come to terms on a longer-term deal that fairly represents the value of those networks.”

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