SUNDAY 12:49 PM, 4TH UPDATE: No progress. The war of words continues with Time Warner saying that the cable system had reached an agreement “last year” to pay MSG the 6.5% price hike it requested at the time. TWC says MSG without warning reneged on that agreement and came back with a new demand for a 53% increase and has refused to budge.
SATURDAY 9:28 PM, 3RD UPDATE: MSG and MSG+ regional sports networks disappeared from from Time Warner Cable systems in the New York metro area and Buffalo at midnight tonight Eastern time. Instead of MSG programming, Time Warner subscribers saw this message: “We take pride in bringing viewers the best in sports — and work hard to keep the price of TV reasonable.” It was later replaced by this one: “We want you to know that while MSG is preventing you from enjoying their channels, other channels still carry your favorite teams. Nearly 40% of the Knicks games and almost 30% of the Rangers games will still be available on your Time Warner Cable lineup.” According to market researcher SNL Kagan, cable and satellite-TV systems pay more than $4.50 a month per subscriber for MSG and MSG Plus. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, the most expensive cable network will cost an average of $5.06 monthly per subscriber in 2012, up from $4.69 in 2011. Time Warner Cable said it was willing to pay 6% more in 2012, but Time Warner EVP Melinda Witmer said MSG sought “dollars more” than any other sports network. In the run-up to the expiration of the old contract, the two sides have waged an aggressive media battle. Time Warner accused MSG Media of demanding a 53% rate increase that would make it the most expensive sports network in the US — more than ESPN. MSG denied seeking that large of an increase and said Time Warner didn’t appreciate the true value of its offerings, which include the Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
SATURDAY 6:18 PM, 2ND UPDATE: MSG Network and Time Warner Cable of New York City are pushing their brinksmanship to the limit and beyond with no deal in sight. MSG and MSG+ will be going dark when the contract expires at midnight. New York sports fans who subscribe to TWC will be out of luck. During the Knicks-Sacramento Kings game tonight MSG began running messages around 8:30 PM New York time indicating the regional sports network would go dark on TWC at midnight and directing subscribers to other providers. “We are disappointed that MSG and MSG Plus will be dropped from Time Warner Cable’s lineup,” said MSG Media president Michael Bair in a statement. “All we have asked is for Time Warner Cable to value our programming in the same way as other TV providers — nothing more, nothing less.”
That announcement is worded in a way that deflects attention from the fact that MSG is pulling the plug, not TWC. “The decision to remove their programming from our lineup rests entirely with MSG,” Time Warner Cable responded in its own statement. “By making that decision well in advance of the deadline, MSG has again shown that they are more interested in holding New York sports fans hostage than in negotiating a deal. Rather than engage in a war of words, they should come back to the table and get a deal done.” Failure to come to terms means MSG and MSG+ will be unavailable to some 2.3 million TWC subscribers for the NBA’s New York Knicks, the NHL’s New York Rangers and Islanders, and the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
SATURDAY 4:10 PM, UPDATE: With less than five hours to go New York time there’s still no movement. No indication of whether Time Warner Cable and Madison Square Garden Media are still negotiating except via email exchanges. That’s hard to believe given the stakes and the customers. TWC previously promised it would not pull the plug on MSG. Typically in such cases it would be the network that would cut the feed, not the cable or other service provider. MSG’s web site is running an ad at the bottom of its home page that routes customers to a tool that directs them to alternate providers. TWC’s NYC homepage isn’t mentioning the dispute but a search for “MSG” leads to a December 19 press release stating TWC’s position.
FRIDAY 1:27 PM: Another year’s end and another carriage feud — this one focusing on sports. With less than 36 hours to go, Madison Square Garden Media and Time Warner Cable have yet to reach an agreement on carriage of the regional sports channels in greater New York City. MSG’s current agreement expires at 12:01 AM on January 1. TWC says MSG is demanding 53% more for its programming which includes New York Knicks and Rangers games.
SNL Kagan estimates the monthly subscriber fee for MSG and MSG+ at $2.48 and $2.17, respectively. ESPN in comparison charges about $4.69 per subscriber. Failure to come to terms would leave millions of viewers without Knicks and Rangers games. In addition to those games MSG and MSG Plus also broadcast games of the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres. MSG says it simply wants “market rates” for its channels, but it also wants to ensure carriage for its low-rated Fuse music channel, which Time Warner has already dropped in New York. MSG meanwhile has run ads urging Time Warner Cable customers to switch to other providers including DirecTV and Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS. That’s ironic because MSG less than two weeks ago gave up its protracted court fight to keep its HD feeds off Verizon’s FiOS and AT&T’s U-Verse. As cable viewers in other cities such as Los Angeles have seen with Fox Sports and other Fox channels carried by TWC in Southern California, these disagreements tend to run up to the wire with the parties reaching a deal at the last minute with little or no interruption in service. Time Warner Cable says “the ball’s in MSG’s court, so these channels will come off only if MSG pulls the plug.”