Another spirited carriage dispute between a cable operator and a regional sports network was seemingly doused last week, when Time Warner Cable reinstated Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports Net New York to its systems after pulling the plug for nearly 10 days.
The two sides — with assists from New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer and the declining fortunes of the New York Mets — reached a tentative agreement last Wednesday that returned the Major League Baseball team’s games and other area sports programming to some 2.4 million New York area Time Warner Cable subscribers.
While a definitive carriage agreement had not been reached by press time, sources from both companies said that it highly unlikely the networks will again be pulled from the MSO in lieu of a finalized deal.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, both sides said they “will continue to work towards a new long-term agreement.”
The statement also acknowledged the behind-the-scenes work of Spitzer in helping to facilitate the temporary truce. MSGN and Fox Sports New York also thanked Spitzer in on-air messages.
Spitzer — who also stepped into the dispute between MSGN parent Cablevision Systems Corp. and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network two years ago — last week brought the two sides to the table to help get the networks back on the air, although it’s unclear what he was able to get the two sides to buy into.
Recent poor play by the Mets might have helped persuade Cablevision to make concessions.
When MSGN, Fox Sports New York, the MetroChannels and three Fox Sports Digital Networks came off Time Warner systems on Aug. 1, the Mets were only a few games out of first place and seemed to involved in a real pennant race. Cablevision could have expected a loud outcry from Mets fans on Time Warner systems, denied the chance to see crucial telecasts.
But over the next 10 days the team slumped and found itself 10 games out of first place, and effectively out of the race, as of Aug. 10.
“The Mets didn’t help Cablevision’s position at all,” said one source close to Cablevison. “If the Mets were still in the thick of the pennant race, we may have seen a different outcome.”
Neither side would comment on the matter.
Time Warner switched on MSGN and Fox Sports New York at 6 p.m., in time for a Mets-Houston Astros game that night.
In total, five Mets games were lost to Time Warner Cable subscribers.
As part of the temporary deal, Time Warner said it would move the MetroChannels from the basic lineup to a digital-cable tier. Time Warner also said it would offer prorated customer rebates for the time the sports channels were off the air. It proposed a $2 rebate for the loss of MSGN and Fox Sports New York and $1.95 for the removal of three Fox Sports Digital Networks.
Still unresolved: The license fee Time Warner will pay Cablevision for the sports networks.
Time Warner balked at a proposed $4 for both MSGN and Fox Sports New York, an increase over the $2.90 paid to Cablevision as part of a deal that expired last December. Time Warner said the increase was too high, given the diminishing value of the two services.
Over the last two years, MSGN and Fox Sports New York have lost the Yankees and the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets, both to YES. What’s more, the Mets recently exercised an option in the team’s 1996 rights agreement with MSG Networks to terminate the deal at the end of the 2005 season.
Cablevision countered that the proposed increase would keep both networks under the $1.91 to $2.11 rate that competitor YES charges locally.
The dispute was an opportunity for both companies to argue their case in public, including through numerous ads in area newspapers, in an effort to influence the attitude of Time Warner subscribers.
Time Warner competitors DirecTV Inc. and RCN Corp. also placed ads in hopes of luring subscribers to their respective services.
Representatives from RCN and DirecTV could not be reached for comment on the success of their respective campaigns.