In the latest installment in another high-cost sports-programming saga, Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network last week reached a major distribution deal with Time Warner Cable — but it failed to hit the home run it wanted.
Time Warner Cable will offer the upstart YES Network on a part-time basis — limited to New York Yankees baseball games and, starting next season, New Jersey Nets basketball contests — to about 80 percent of the network's 1.2-million-subscriber base in New York City, sources close to the situation said.
Slightly more than 200,000 city subscribers — the ones with digital boxes — will initially receive YES's full complement of programming, sources predicted. The rest of Time Warner's 3 million subscribers in the New York market will get the channel on basic full time.
Madison Square Garden Network, which lost Yankees broadcast rights to YES, will move from a part-time service on Time Warner systems to full-time status.
MSGN is expected to add a number of new programming initiatives to its lineup, including 55 New York Mets games and an afternoon radio sports-talk show, to help fill the void left by the Yankees. The Mets had aired exclusively on Fox Sports New York, MSGN's sister service.
YES will receive its full licensing fee from Time Warner — about $2 per subscriber — even for those with part-time carriage, sources close to the situation said. President Leo J. Hindery Jr. confirmed a carriage deal with Time Warner, but would not provide specifics.
"Time Warner never played games [during the negotiations], and it's been an honor to work with our friends there," he said.
But the deal does not give YES what it really wanted: full 24-hour carriage on basic throughout the MSO.
While sources said YES would eventually gain its own analog channel within a year, the agreement is sure to stiffen MSO holdout Cablevision System Corp.'s position that the service be offered on a tiered basis.
Cablevision senior vice president of media and community relations Charles Schueler would not comment on the proposed Time Warner deal, but continued to maintain that YES should be offered on a premium tier or à la carte.
"It's expensive sports programming, and we think the customers should be able to chose whether or not to purchase the network," he said.
SHARED WITH CNNFN
For now, YES will share a channel with CNNfn, according to sources and one published report. In Time Warner's centerpiece Manhattan system, MSG shares channel 27 with CNNfn, a financial-news network owned by MSO parent AOL Time Warner Inc.
Sources said last week that MSG would retain its slot on channel 27 and expand to a 24-hour service sometime next month. That would mean CNNfn and YES would share another channel slot. Which slot they would share could not be determined by press time.
MSG officials would not comment on the situation, but the network has scheduled a press conference next week, presumably to offer further details.
The move is somewhat surprising since MSGN lost much of its marquee programming when it lost the Yankees rights to YES. Also, AOL Time Warner has talked in the past about expanding CNNfn to a 24-hour network, called CNN Money, although that expansion has not yet occurred.
Sources said MSG plans to unveil a number of new programming initiatives that will not only help fill the void created by the Yankees loss, but also add new programming to justify expansion to a 24-hour service.
Currently, during late-night, morning and early afternoon hours, the network offers a mix of infomercials, library programming and shows from Fox Sports Net.
MSGN will move about 55 New York Mets games from FSNY to help fill some of the summer hours once occupied by Yankees games, sources said.
One scenario would have Mets games airing on MSGN on Mondays through Wednesdays, and on Fox Sports New York on Thursdays through Sundays.
New York television station WPIX (channel 11) will also air 50 Mets games, most of which are scheduled during the weekends.
MSG will also offer morning and late-night blocks of originally produced local sports news shows, as well as an afternoon sports radio show to compete with the YES simulcast of WFAN radio's Mike and the Mad Dog, sources said. It's unclear who the network would get to host the show.