YES Close to Key Deals

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Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network executives expect to have most of the New York- area MSOs in the dugout and ready to carry the fledgling regional sports channel by its March 19 launch date.

But Cablevision Systems Corp. seems to be the one MSO that is not ready to play ball with the channel that will carry New York Yankees baseball games.

Although YES CEO Leo Hindery Jr. stopped short of confirming published reports that YES had reached agreements with key New York-area operators Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp., he said the network expects to announce carriage agreements with key cable affiliates by late February or early March.

"In the next two weeks, we expect to announce carriage agreements with most of the cable operators in our region," said Hindery, a former AT&T Broadband CEO.

Time Warner spokesman Mike Luftman was "cautiously optimistic" that a deal would be reached with YES, but said "there are still some details to be worked out."

Comcast representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

If those contracts are completed, Time Warner and Comcast would join DirecTV Inc. and cable overbuilder RCN Inc. in reaching distribution deals with the network, which will air 130 New York Yankees games this season.

Cablevision looks like the big holdout. The MSO, whose Madison Square Garden Network lost the Yankees rights to YES, continues to balk over a $2 rate card and believes YES should be sold as a premium channel.

Cablevision officials could not be reached for comment at press time, but Hindery expressed optimism about an agreement. "We continue to have difficult discussions with Cablevision, which is an old friend, but we are hopeful that a satisfactory outcome will occur before we launch on March 19."

Sources said Cablevision is intent on offering the service on premium. Published reports last week said the MSO may survey its 3 million New York-area subscribers to determine whether they're willing to pay extra for the service.

Cablevision does offer MSGN and Fox Sports New York as premium channels to 60 percent of its subscriber base. But other operators carry both networks as a basic service.

Meanwhile, RCN last week became the first cable operator to agree to carry YES as a basic channel, Hindery said. RCN officials would not say how many subscribers would receive the network, but sources estimate RCN has about 180,000 subscribers in the metro New York DMA.

Contrary to published reports, sources said RCN does not plan to raise rates due to the YES deal. In January, RCN raised its basic rate to $34.95 from $31.95.

The deal comes on the heels of YES's agreement with direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. The network will appear on DirecTV's "Total Choice" basic-service package for New York-area subscribers, while parts of the sports service will also be carried as part of the "DirecTV Sports Pack" monthly programming service outside of the metro New York market, the company said.

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