Cablevision, Time Warner Cable fail to reach pact by deadline

New York Mets fans deprived of the games on cable may get rescued by the satellite distribs DirecTV and Echostar.

Today’s contest between the Mets and Milwaukee Brewers on the MSG cable network is the first game that will disappear from the TV sets of the 2.4 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York and surrounding areas.

Cablevision, the owner of MSG and its sister channel Fox Sports Net NY, and Time Warner Cable of NYC failed to reach a carriage agreement for renewal of the two sports networks by the deadline of July 31.

One of the sticking points, in addition to dollar figures, is the carriage of two local Metro channels that Cablevision wants to include in the deal as add-ons to the sports networks.

TW Cable says the Metro channels, which schedule movies and low-rated programs like “Antique Show & Tell,” are less valuable because they’re not needed for spillover games. Spillovers used to be the main function of the Metro channels when MSG and Fox Sports NY owned the rights to all of the local pro sports, including the New York Yankees and the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

But the Yankees created a new regional network called YES three years ago, which became the exclusive local-cable channel for the Yankees and the Nets.

A spokesman for DirecTV, which carries MSG and Fox Sports NY, said the company has not yet drawn up plans to blitz TW Cable areas with ads urging Mets’ fans to cancel their cable subscriptions and buy satellite dishes to get the games.

DirecTV’s worry, the spokesman said, is that, after spending lots of money creating the campaign and buying ads on local TV and radio and in NY newspapers, TW and Cablevision would come to a carriage agreement.

But if the dispute drags out over weeks and months, DirecTV and its satellite competitor Echostar would jump in, most likely sharing advertising and marketing costs with Cablevision. If thousands of TW Cable subscribers defected to satellite, the pressure might force TW to cave in to Cablevision’s demands.

MSG and Fox Sports NY say their asking price is lower than what TW Cable is paying the YES Network.

But TWC says even that lower price is still a fairly stiff increase over the license fee for both networks in the current contract. TWC says the price should go down somewhat not only because MSG and FSNY surrendered the games of both the Yankees and the Nets to YES but because the two networks also face the loss of the New York Mets, whose contract ends after next season, and the New Jersey Devils pro hockey team, whose contract runs only through 2006-07.

The counter-argument of MSG and FSNY is that they would agree to put clauses to the contracts that would give a substantial amount of money back to TW Cable if the Mets and the Devils fail to renew their contracts.

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