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DirecTV bucket battle next

Company will again try to lure Cablevision auds

DirecTV is planning to mount another campaign to get viewers to cancel their subscriptions to Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision Systems Corp. and buy satellite dishes to pick up the games of the New Jersey Nets.

Dolan lost tens of thousands of subscribers to DirecTV throughout the summer because Cablevision has not struck a deal to carry the YES Network, which opened for business in March as the exclusive cable network home of the New York Yankees.

A heavy advertising/marketing campaign by YES and DirecTV helped lure Yankee fans away from Cablevision. Some analysts say as many as 90,000 subscribers may have dropped Cablevision for DirecTV this year, but official figures are hard to come by.

The subscriber hemorrhage stopped with the end of the regular baseball season last week. But the Nets, which recently signed an exclusive cable deal with YES, kick of their 2002-03 season Oct. 30, and Leo Hindery, chairman of YES, said he and his counterparts at DirecTV expect to start getting the word out early next month that Cablevision subscribers will be deprived of the games.

About 1 million of Cablevision’s 2.9 million subscribers reside in New Jersey, so DirecTV and YES will send out mailers and produce radio ads urging these subscribers to buy satellite dishes to get the Nets’ games. DirecTV also will work with retail electronic stores to publicize the availability of all of the Nets’ game on satellite at no extra cost.

The prospects of Cablevision and YES reaching a carriage deal anytime in the near future are grim because both sides are embroiled in a lawsuit that may not get before a judge and jury for a decision until spring. The next six months will be taken up with extensive pretrial activity, including detailed depositions.

YES charges that Dolan has refused to take the network only because Cablevision doesn’t want competition for the two regional sports networks that it jointly owns with Fox: Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports New York.

Cablevision denies that charge, claiming YES’ license fee is too expensive and would force the cable operator to raise the monthly rates to all of its subscribers, not just to sports fans.

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