In the carriage renewal fight between Time Warner Cable and MSG, the MSO Sunday put the negotiating ball in the programmer's court.
Time Warner Cable pledged that it would not take MSG and its sister regional sports network, MSG + off its air through the balance of the NBA and NHL seasons, offering to pay a 6.5% increase in monthly subscriber license fees.
The parties' have evidently been negotiating for two years and their contract expires on Dec. 31. On Friday, Time Warner Cable dropped music network Fuse.
"We will not remove MSG/MSG+ from our New York cable systems. That ball is in MSG's court," said Mike Angus, senior vice president, content acquisition for Time Warner Cable, in a statement. "Time Warner Cable and our customers have stood by MSG and its teams through thick and thin. Our customers have paid whether the teams won or lost; they deserve better."
MSG returned fire Sunday night with this response: "Time Warner Cable is blatantly mischaracterizing our negotiations and the figures as a smokescreen for the fact that they are not willing to pay fair and reasonable rates for our programming."
Time Warner Cable on Dec. 16 disconnected the music channel. For its part, MSG on Friday evening issued a statement indicating that the MSO was threatening to take the RSNs off the air and pointed Time Warner Cable subscribers to alternate providers to ensure that they would be able to continue to see the retooled NBA New York Knicks and the NHL's New York Rangers and Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabers.
The cable operator responded that night by detailing some of the price increases the programmer has been seeking and said the parties had neared a deal at the abovementioned rate, before MSG looked to collect millions for Fuse. On Saturday, MSG began running a crawl on its air, alerting Time Warner Cable subscribers about a potential service disruption and included the logos of RCN, DirecTV and Verizon FiOS as potential alternate providers.
On Sunday, Time Warner Cable said MSG is demanding carriage of Fuse as a condition to its distribution of the RSNs at a cost of millions of dollars. "Fuse is watched by fewer than one-tenth of one percent of the customers who have it available - that's just 4,000 customers out of more than 7.4 million. Asking our customers to pay millions for a channel they clearly don't want and don't value is nothing more than a tax on New York sports fans," said Angus.
The nation's No. 2 cable operator also disclosed that Angus sent a letter to MSG Media president Mike Bair in which he wrote that "despite our unsuccessful attempts to date, Time Warner Cable continues to believe that a renewal for MSG/MSG+ is easily achievable. "
The missive said the MSO was ready to enter a long-term pact under the aforementioned terms. "The only obstacle that prevented us from reaching agreement was MSG's insistence that Time Warner Cable carry and pay millions of dollars for Fuse music network, even though we made it clear that the Fuse network had scant viewership and little value to our customers. We are happy to discuss the future of Fuse separately, but right now our customers and your viewers deserve our undivided attention on resolving the future of MSG/MSG+. While we continue to work through this issue, we are offering to continue carrying MSG/MSG+ at a 6.5% increase through the end of the 2011-2012 NBA and NHL seasons. "