Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.'s upstart MSG Metro
Channels received a major distribution boost last week from Time Warner Cable's New
York City Group, which will launch one of the three local news and entertainment services
With near-universal penetration in the New York DMA, Metro
will soon be the new home of some overflow sports product coming from Madison Square
Garden Network and Fox Sports New York, said sources close to the situation.
Time Warner will offer the Metro Guide, one of three Metro
channel offerings, to its 1 million subscribers beginning Jan. 28, said Barry Rosenblum,
president of Time Warner Cable New York City. The Metro Learning and Metro Traffic
services will be launched as part of Time Warner's new product tier in 2000 and 2003,
Time Warner already programs its own local exclusive news
service on its New York 1 channel, and Rosenblum said the success of that service has
encouraged the system to expand its local programming content.
As a terrestrially delivered product, Metro Channels is not
subject to program access laws, so cable operators can keep it exclusively.
"The Metro Channels launch is part of our overall
initiative to offer more local content that will differentiate [us] from other [program]
distributors," Rosenblum said.
Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media Holdings
Inc., said that the deal now gives Metro Channels distribution in about 85 percent of the
New York market.
"We now have a realization of the most ambitious local
programming model on cable TV," he said.
The launch also gives Rainbow more opportunity to carry
live sports on the Metro Channels. With 3.4 million tri-state area subscribers now
receiving at least one of the channels, Rainbow will most likely starting running
carryover games from Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports New York on Metro
Channels early next year, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Rainbow's parent Cablevision Systems Corp. -- which
also owns MSGN and is a partner in Fox Sports New York -- has come under fire recently for
not telecasting a number of New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils hockey games because
of scheduling conflicts. Both teams have deals with FSNY.
If the National Basketball Association lockout is resolved,
the addition of New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets games will create further scheduling
conflicts for both MSGN and FSNY.
In the past, Cablevision opened a third channel for the
overflow games, but MSGN executives said that it was too costly to take that step this
But the Metro Channels give MSG the opportunity to provide
cable-exclusive coverage of the games. Sapan said that Rainbow is "certainly looking
at the possibility" of offering overflow sports programming on the service, but would
not reveal further plans.