After a period of relative quiet, the carriage battle between Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network and Cablevision Systems Corp. erupted again last week, with both companies firing salvos over their impending legal battle.
YES president Leo Hindery berated Cablevision for asking for an "unparalleled" 660 days to prepare for the discovery portion of YES's federal antitrust lawsuit, which charges the MSO with keeping the upstart network — the carrier of 130 exclusive New York Yankees games — off its systems for anti-competitive reasons. Cablevision-owned Madison Square Garden Network was the former cable home of the Bronx Bombers.
For its part, Cablevision placed the two-year trial delay on YES for filing a "complex" lawsuit that requires such a long preparation period.
Meanwhile, New York State legislators, who've grown impatient with the ongoing impasse, introduced a bill last week that they hope will result in Cablevision subscribers gaining access to YES.
YES, which has asked the MSO for basic carriage at $2 per subscriber for each of its 3 million New York-area households, presented a case-management plan to Cablevision that contemplated a trial by Labor Day of 2002. But YES said that Cablevision came back with its 660-day request. Cablevision wants to offer the YES network as a pay service.
"It's an acknowledgement that Cablevision wants to put us out of business," Hindery said. "This is not a cable company that wants to carry the YES network at all."
But in a statement, Cablevision said it was YES that dictated the timetable "when it decided to file an extremely broad and complex federal antitrust lawsuit, knowing that this is particularly lengthy and time-consuming litigation and that it would take Cablevision appropriate time to prepare its defense."
While Hindery admitted that the issues regarding the lawsuit are "complex," he said 660 days is "extreme," especially considering the fact that YES is only three months old.
"A discovery of this type does not take 660 days — it doesn't take 60 days," Hindery said.
The MSO has until June 10 to respond the lawsuit. The MSO would not comment on what action it would take, but industry observers speculate that Cablevision will ask U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts to dismiss it.
Cablevision has said that the lawsuit "is entirely without merit," and "ignores the fact that Cablevision has made fair and non-discriminatory offers to the YES Network that have all been rejected by YES."
Hindery said YES would survive even if the Cablevision is granted its request for time, but he said the network would "be on life support."
In an effort to expedite Cablevision's carriage of YES, New York state Sens. Alexander Gromack (D-Congers), Thomas Morahan (R-New City) and Guy Velella (R-Bronx) introduced a bill they said "would ensure the fair and non-discriminatory treatment of unaffiliated video-programming vendors by vertically integrated cable-television companies."
But Cablevision responded by saying the bill is "the latest YES Network attempt to pressure Cablevision into forcing all our customers to pay $72 million a year to watch Yankee games on cable, whether they want to or not."
Sources close to the situation said the legislature is not expected to hear the bill before it breaks for summer recess next week.