Time Warner, MSG on Brink (Again)

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Midnight Monday night was another witching hour for Time Warner Cable’s 2.3 million New York City-area subscribers as Madison Square Garden Networks threatened for a third time to pull the signals of MSG Network and FSN New York over a carriage-fee dispute.

Sources close to the situation were saying Monday that it was doubtful that an agreement would come before the deadline.

Both sides confirmed that Monday negotiations were ongoing to avert a network blackout, which would affect the final month of New York Knicks National Basketball Association telecasts, as well as New York Mets Major League Baseball games.

Cablevision pulled the signal from Time Warner for nearly 10 days last August before the first temporary extension was reached, with help from New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The Mets are in the last year of a deal with MSGN, and the club plans to team up with Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. on a new regional sports network launching in 2006.

MSGN and FSNY over the past several years have also lost the rights to New York Yankees MLB and New Jersey Nets NBA telecasts to Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network.

Time Warner has rejected a proposed $4-per-customer fee for both MSGN and FSNY, up from $2.90 in a carriage deal that expired in December 2003.

MSGN has run on-air crawls declaring, “Time Warner is preparing to take the Knicks and Mets off the air again.” MSGN parent Cablevision Systems Corp. also had similarly worded placards handed to fans attending the Sunday night Knicks-Golden State Warriors game at Cablevision-ownedMadisonSquareGarden.

Time Warner has also run crawls, on The Weather Channel and TV Guide Channel, saying that it “expects” Cablevision to yank MSGN and FSNY off the air and will provide $2 in rebates per month to subscribers while the networks are off.

Time Warner said it would slot NBA TV and College Sports Television into the blank channels.

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