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Dispute Keeps MSG Dark in N.Y.

Basketball and hockey fans in New York may
have a longer-than-expected wait for the return of their local
teams on Time Warner Cable.

The operator’s weeks-long carriage dispute with MSG Networks
could last through the end of the 2011-2012 National
Basketball Association and National Hockey League seasons,
network officials said last

MSG and MSG Plus went
dark for about 2.3 million
Time Warner Cable customers
in the New York DMA and
upstate New York on Jan. 1, after
the two parties could not
reach a carriage deal. MSG
Media president Mike Bair,
who spoke on a conference
call with analysts last Tuesday
(Feb. 7) to discuss quarterly results,
said talks broke off after
the networks were pulled at
midnight on New Year’s Day.

Bair said the dispute is primarily
over rates, adding that
MSG is only seeking fair market
value for its content.

“We do think that there
will ultimately be a deal, but
we can’t predict when and we
can’t offer any assurances that
it will even happen during the
2011-2012 seasons,” Bair said.

MSG carries New York
Knicks NBA games; that
league’s lockout-shortened season ends on April 26.

The networks also carry games from four teams — the
Buff alo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and
New York Rangers — whose season ends April 7. MSG Media
parent Madison Square Garden also owns the Knicks
and Rangers teams.

Time Warner Cable has claimed — and MSG has disputed
— that the network had originally asked for a 6.5%
rate increase but changed that demand
to a 53% hike as the Dec. 31
deadline loomed. The MSO added
that the network refused its request
for an extension in December, which
would have allowed cable customers
to continue to see games on the

“They are still demanding a 53% increase;
our hope is that they will go
back to their pre-December demands
and close a reasonable deal,” TWC
spokeswoman Maureen Huff said in
a statement.

While MSG said the carriage dustup
has not had a big effect on the
channel — Bair claimed that ratings
for MSG are up in the calendar
fi rst quarter and that CPM prices for
the channel are rising — that might
change. TWC subscribers number
about 30% of MSG’s total viewers
and 17.5% of Fuse watchers.

“Time Warner is a signifi cant distributor
of ours and will have a material
impact on our results for as
long as this dispute continues,” Bair