Disney, Viacom networks vying for TW Cable link

NEW YORK — A batch of fledgling cable networks owned by the Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc. and the sixth largest U.S. cable operator, Cablevision Systems Corp., could end up pushing their way onto Time Warner Cable of New York City when it starts rolling out 12 new channels to its 1.1 million subscribers early this fall.

Sources said executives of the TW Gotham-based system already made their 12 choices behind closed doors earlier this month, based mostly on the terms and conditions of the deals and the quality of the networks’ programming strategy. But higher-level execs at TW will probably veto some of those decisions, the sources said, based on ongoing bigger-picture negotiations with Disney, Viacom and Cablevision.

Although none of these companies spoke for the record, sources said Disney — in contract renewal talks with TW Cable for its existing networks — is prepared to lower the price a tad for the Disney-owned ESPN and ESPN2 if TW agrees to take the 8-month-old ESPNews, which consists of 24 hours a day of sports news, on the New York system.

It would be almost impossible for the Gotham system to take ESPNews, which was not one of the 12 original recommendations, without also taking CNN/SI, the 7-month-old all-sports-news network owned by TW. But TW sources acknowledge that the company would have a hard time justifying filling two of the precious 12 slots with wall-to-wall sports news and discussion.

Steve Bornstein, president and CEO of ESPN, said at a press luncheon Tuesday that “we’ve put together a competitive offer” for ESPNnews and warned that Disney wouldn’t hesitate to file a federal antitrust petition if TW rejected ESPNews in favor of not only CNN/SI but such other TW-owned networks as Turner Classic Movies and HBO Family.

Viacom is seeking to renew its Showtime pay TV network with TW Cable, and sources said Showtime’s price will be dependent on whether TW Cable agrees to take three other Viacom-owned networks: Nick at Nite’s TV Land, the Sundance Channel and the MTV spinoff M2: Music TV. Viacom denies that there’s any tie-in between Showtime renewals and negotiations that would get the newer networks onto the Gotham tier.

Cablevision Systems Corp. is demanding big license-fee renewals from TW Cable of NYC for the two regionals that it owns a 60% stake in — the Madison Square Garden network and Sportschannel NY, the sources said.

But Cablevision would moderate its demands, according to sources, if the Gotham system agrees to take three other networks that are majority-owned by Cablevision’s Rainbow Program Services division: IFC (Independent Film Channel), Romance Classics and Much Music USA.

Sources said the long-awaited announcement of the winners of the 12-channel sweepstakes could come within the next week, although the complicated negotiations might also delay the disclosure until later in August.

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