ESPN nets Cablevision carriage

Co.s mum on details; pact likely parallels previous deals

ESPN, ESPN2 and a batch of sister networks have engineered their fifth major carriage deal since mid-February, signing Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision Systems Corp., the largest cable-TV operator in the New York region.

Neither ESPN nor Cablevision would comment on the details of the contract. But industry observers say it probably parallels the previous four ESPN deals with Charter Communications, Cox Communications, the National Cable TV Cooperative and Cable One.

In those nine-year deals, ESPN agreed to lower its annual increases from 20% a year to an average of 7% a year, bowing to vocal pressure from cable operators, who will still pay more money to ESPN under the new terms than to any other nationally distributed cable network, by far.

As a quid pro quo, the cable operators have agreed to take all of ESPN’s services, including ESPN HD, the Spanish-language network ESPN Deportes and the broadband lineup of Web sites that go with high-speed data offerings. Most of these operators already carry ESPN Classic and ESPN News, two other 24-hour networks.

ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Co., is the most-watched sports network on cable.

Beginning last fall, Cox Communications, the nation’s No. 4 cable operator, began an unusually intense campaign against ESPN’s proposed license-fee hikes, going so far as to put up a Web site detailing its side of the carriage fee dispute. Cox reached an agreement with ESPN in February, which has served as a template for other carriage agreements.

Major cablers yet to reup with ESPN are Comcast and Time Warner.

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