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YES, Comcast Deadline Passes With No Deal

About 900,000 Comcast customers are without regional sports channel Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network after their carriage deal expired at midnight on Wednesday.

Comcast and YES reached an impasse in their carriage negotiations, which have been ongoing for months.

News of the impasse was first reported by the Scranton-Times Tribune.

According to SNL Kagan, YES Network is the most expensive RSN in the country at $4.89 per subscriber per month, offering New York Yankees Major League Baseball games, Brooklyn Nets National Basketball Association contests and MLS soccer games from the New York City FC.

YES is one of four regional sports networks in the New York area – SportsNet New York (co-owned by Comcast), MSG and MSG Plus are the others – and the only one with rights to both baseball and basketball. SNY airs New York Mets MLB games while MSG and MSG Plus has rights to New York Knicks NBA basketball and NHL hockey from the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

The standoff comes after months of negotiations – Comcast’s YES deal officially expired in February and the network gave repeated extensions, through the baseball season and into the first weeks of professional basketball.

While Comcast may not have wanted to ruffle any regulator feathers earlier in the year when it was still moving forward with its since-abandoned deal to acquire Time Warner Cable (it withdrew its offer in April), the cable powerhouse has apparently taken a harder stance – like its other peers – when it comes to programming negotiations.

Its resolve also may be bolstered by the Nets’ poor record so far this year – they have one win and nine losses. 

Other operators have cited low ratings and high-prices when deciding whether to drop networks – Cable One and Suddenlink have been without Viacom networks for more than a year and DirecTV and FiOS TV have done without The Weather Channel for weeks at a time during contentious negotiations. Even YES has gone dark in the past – Cablevision Systems refused to carry the network for more than a year after it was first launched (and lost about 30,000 customers as a result), before restoring the channel in 2003. And Dish Network has never carried the RSN, and stopped carrying MSG and MSG Plus in 2010 and dropped SNY in 2011.

21st Century Fox’s Fox Sports Network Group bought a 49% interest in YES in 2012 (increasing it to 80% last year) and has been leading the RSN’s carriage negotiations for the past few years. During that time Fox has negotiated several big deals for the RSN, many with a larger New York metro area subscriber count than Comcast.

Comcast carries YES in Northern New Jersey, parts of Connecticut and the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa. area. While not exactly a hotbed of Yankees fandom, Comcast has said in a statement that its 900,000 customers in those areas hardly watch the channel at all.

"YES Network carried approximately 130 baseball games this past season and well over 90 percent of our 900,000 plus customers who receive YES Network didn’t watch the equivalent of even one quarter of those games during the season, even while the Yankees were in the hunt for a playoff berth,” Comcast said in a statement. “Viewership of the network in the baseball offseason is even lower. FOX and the Yankees are asking all of our customers to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years to continue receiving the channel. The price FOX and the Yankees are requiring from our customers is not acceptable given the Network’s minimal viewership, which is why we have decided we can no longer justify continuing to carry the Network. YES simply does not present an appropriate price-value proposition for our customers.” 

YES, the most watched RSN the country, took exception to Comcast’s characterization. The network has also set up a web site where customers can go for more information.

“As of midnight, Tuesday Nov. 17, and just weeks after the end of the baseball season, Comcast has decided to drop YES Network, home to the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Nets and New York City FC, with no advance notice to its subscribers,” YES said in a statement. “Comcast’s reputation for poor customer satisfaction is well known, but this surprise development represents a new low.  YES and Comcast reached an agreement in principle on the key points of a new contract many months ago, and YES continued to operate in good faith under that arrangement through the entire Yankees and NYCFC seasons and into the Nets season.  Unfortunately, because YES will not yield to Comcast’s demands for special treatment and anti-competitive terms, Comcast has decided to drop YES Network and its coverage of the NY Yankees, Brooklyn Nets and the New York City FC.”