What does Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan think about the forces that contribute to rising pay TV prices? Depends on what hat he’s wearing, based on his rocky performance on the cable company’s conference call with analysts this morning. He vigorously attacked Viacom‘s policy of pricing channels to make it uneconomical for cable and satellite companies to just pick up the ones that they want. Discussing the antitrust suit Cablevision filed against Viacom this week, he says that “forcing distributors to carry more than a dozen” little-watched channels is “an abuse of its market power and a violation of federal antitrust laws.” It “causes prices to rise and we believe it needs to be stopped.” Fair enough. But why is Cablevision filing the case now, two months after it reached a deal with Viacom? Dolan wouldn’t answer the question. “I don’t think I’m going to try the case in our fourth quarter call,” he said.
He also sidestepped questions that involved two other companies his family controls: AMC Networks — which, like Viacom, offers channels in bundles — and Madison Square Garden Company, a regional sports channel owner that he oversees as executive chairman. Cablevision recently announced that it will tack $2.98 a month on to customers’ bills to help pay for the rising cost of sports programming. One analyst wanted to know what Dolan thinks about the idea of moving regional sports channels to a separate tier, so non-sports fans wouldn’t have to pay. “I don’t think I’m going to comment on that,” he said. Cablevision’s share price slid during the call, and are -9.7% in late-morning trading.