YES's Gain a Loss for MSG, Techtv

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As the fledgling Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network continued its efforts to strike a carriage deal with Cablevision Systems Corp. last week, Madison Square Garden Network and Techtv found themselves riding the pine in some parts.

The upstart sports channel took the place of MSG or Techtv in the lineups of several New York-area Cox Communications, Tele-Media and Comcast systems.

Cablevision-owned MSG — which lost the rights to New York Yankees baseball games to YES last fall — is expected to lose about 300,000 subscribers to the upstart channel in several Cox and Tele-Media systems, according to sources.

A Cox Communications Inc. spokeswoman said the MSO's 100,000 mostly Connecticut subscribers no longer receive MSG because of its recent agreement to carry YES. "We wanted to preserve the Yankees coverage for our subscribers," said the spokeswoman, who added that the MSO would increase its basic rate by $2, despite dropping MSG.

Representatives from Tele-Media Corp. did not return calls by press time, but the MSO is expected to phase out MSG in June, according to the Hartford Courant.

Tele-Media still plans to raise the price for its basic service by as much as $2.50, the newspaper reported.

Adelphia Communications is also expected to drop MSG for YES.

MSG's carriage agreements with Cox, Adelphia and Tele-Media expired at the end of 2001.

An MSG Networks spokesman confirmed the subscriber losses, but said it would continue to negotiate with all parties to work out new carriage commitments. The network is not proposing to increase its approximately $1.75 to $2 per-subscriber licensing fee for at least two years, although it has added several original shows and sports-news reports in an effort to create a 24-hour service and replace the Yankees. It also moved 50 New York Mets games to MSG from co-owned regional sports service Fox Sports New York.

Techtv is also feeling the squeeze, having lost 300,000 subscribers on Comcast systems, mostly in northern and central New Jersey.

"Clearly we are disappointed that Comcast made this decision," Techtv vice president of affiliate sales Peter Gochis said in a statement. "We are in conversations with Comcast and hope to forge a solution to get Techtv back on in the New Jersey subscriber areas as soon as possible."

FANS COURT HELP

Meanwhile, talks between YES and Cablevision remain stalled.

In an attempt to facilitate a deal, a group of Cablevision subscribers last Tuesday filed a lawsuit in a New York U.S. District Court calling for the MSO to carry the games while negotiations between Cablevision and YES continue.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., seeks an injunction against both companies that would provide YES's Yankees telecasts to Cablevision's 3 million subscribers until a final carriage agreement is reached.

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages, according to sources close to the situation.

The two parties were also expected to face off last Wednesday before the Suffolk County Legislature's Consumer Protection and Government Operations Committee to discuss the issue. But Cablevision executives backed out at the last minute.

YES chairman and CEO Leo Hindery did appear in front of the committee, as well as at a Town Hall meeting in Rockland County, N.Y. — sans Cablevision.

Despite the dearth of Cablevision subscribers, ratings for YES's Yankees telecast have outpaced the comparable contests on MSGN last season.

Through eight games, YES averaged a 2.71 household rating, compared with a 2.52 rating for the same number of games on MSG last year, which included all Cablevision homes.

"We are extremely gratified by the number of people who are watching the Yankees on YES," Hindery said in a statement. "At the same time, we are disappointed that these exciting games have so far been unavailable to Yankees fans who are customers of Cablevision."

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