Nats Get TV Carriage

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Fans of the Washington Nationals might need satellite dishes to watch more of the Major League Baseball team’s games, as DirecTV Inc. is the first distributor to sign a carriage deal with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

Meanwhile, talks between key executives at Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. have resumed over restoring Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports Net New York to 2.3 million Time Warner Cable subscribers who’ve been unable to see the New York Mets MLB games aired on those channels.

MASN’S NEW DEAL

DirecTV signed a multiyear deal with MASN, the regional sports network owned by the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, to distribute 68 Nationals games (other games are on local broadcast stations WTTG and WDCA) to customers in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Customers outside of the market but within MASN’s territory — including parts of Virginia and North Carolina — will receive 135 Nationals games, DirecTV said.

No cable operator has a MASN deal, so DirecTV gets a competitive advantage in the market.

The games are all viewers will see on the network, though, as MASN has yet to acquire or produce any other programming.

MASN will launch as a 24-hour service by March 1, 2006, when it’s scheduled to air 150 Nationals games. In 2007, MASN plans to offer Nationals and Orioles games: the Orioles deal with Comcast SportsNet Mid Atlantic expires after the 2006 season.

Comcast is suing the Orioles for breach of contract, though. Representatives from Comcast SportsNet could not be reached for comment on the matter.

Comcast controls nearly half of the approximately 4.8 million cable subscribers in the market, so a Comcast deal would seem to be a priority for MASN.

In New York, representatives from Time Warner Cable and MSGN confirmed negotiations resumed last week to end a long-running carriage dispute.

TOP EXECS IN TALKS

Sources said Cablevision president and COO Tom Rutledge and Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt are handling the talks. But sources said prominent New York-area politicians, such as state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, have not gotten involved.

On March 8 Cablevision pulled the signal for MSGN and FSN New York, as well as for Cablevision’s Metro Channels and three Fox College Sports channels from Time Warner after failing to renew a distribution deal with the MSO.

As of last week, 29 of 100 scheduled 2005 Mets telecasts on MSGN and FSN New York had been lost due to the dispute, over a $4 monthly licensing fee Cablevision wants for the two networks.

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