Cablevision, YES carriage skirmish’s in extra innings

Hindrey, Dolan still fighting publicly

NEW YORK — Less than a week away from opening day of the New York Yankees’ 2002 season, Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision Systems and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports (YES) Network are still taking swings at each other.

The latest skirmish in an ongoing war erupted Tuesday when Leo Hindery, chairman-CEO of YES, took a slap at James Dolan, president-CEO of Cablevision, for publicly releasing copies of a personal letter addressed to Hindery before he even had a chance to read it.

“On a very personal level … I cannot begin to express my disappointment” that Cablevision would, in a letter, offer “a discriminatory form of carriage which differs from that afforded literally every other basic service,” Hindery said in a statement.

Setting up shop

Hindery was referring to Dolan’s proposal to make space on his cable systems for YES and then let YES “set the retail price,” giving the network all the revenues generated by the channel, according to the “Dear Leo” letter.

The problem with the Dolan proposal, said Neal Pilson, head of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports, is that YES would be walking away from the monthly fee of $1.82 per subscriber that it’s charging all the other carriers of the network in the New York area, from Time Warner Cable of New York City to DirecTV.

That fee would funnel close to $70 million a year from Dolan into YES’ coffers, and it would make the network available to all the 3 million or so Cablevision subscribers in New York.

Getting YES into every Cablevision home is vital to the advertising base of the network. Based on the Dolan letter, “Any fee YES charged to Cablevision subscribers would dramatically reduce the penetration of the network,” Pilson said.

Bob Gutkowski, president of Magnum Sports & Entertainment and former president of Madison Square Garden, said the Dolan proposal “is a sham and a PR gimmick.”

Gutkowski called it hypocritical for Dolan to insist on YES as a pay channel when Dolan, who is majority owner of the Madison Square Garden Channel and Fox Sports New York, forces local cable operators like TW Cable and Comcast to pay big license fees for the two channels and to slot them on basic.

After hearing Hindery’s response, Charlie Schueler, Dolan’s chief spokesman, said, “YES is getting the channel, YES is setting the price and YES keeps all the money. They should just say yes” to the Cablevision proposal.

In his statement, Hindery said he’s available to talk with Cablevision at any time about fair carriage of YES, banking on a conclusion to the discussions that “will best serve the Cablevision subscribers, who right now are being very ill-served by Cablevision management.”

Hindery’s ace in the hole is the marketing campaign he and DirecTV are running in New York that urges Cablevision customers who are Yankee fans to cancel their subscriptions and buy a satellite dish so they can get all 130 regular season games that YES will run exclusively.

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