MSG-Time Warner Cable Fight Could Cost Us MSG/MSG+
For two years Time Warner Cable and Madison Square Garden have been unsuccessfully negotiating against a ticking clock, a clock which officially runs out when the ball drops on the new year. If the two media conglomerates can't come together by then, much of the Capital Region will lose MSG and MSG+.
It's a story we've all heard before. The network wants the cable service provider to pay X, the cable service provider refuses to pay anything more than Y, and Z (that's us) ends up as the only ones that seem to feel the ripple effect. In this most recent scenario, the network is represented by MSG and MSG+, two channels that carry many of our New York based sports teams, including the Rangers, Sabres, Devils, Islanders and Knicks. The cable service provider is Time Warner Cable, a national media conglomerate who all but holds a monopoly as the Capital Region's largest cable service provider.
These media giants have spent two years attempting to find a deal that would keep MSG and MSG+ a part of Time Warner Cable's channel lineup. Their current deal is set to expire January first, meaning that the bulk of the Capital Region is just days away from being without their hockey and basketball teams for the foreseeable future. This year's fight seems to be over MSG's asking price, as well as their insistence that Time Warner Cable carry their music channel, FUSE. Naturally, the board room battle has spilled over into a bitter fight for public support, with both sides making their case, trying to get you to win them these negotiations.
Time Warner Cable has taken to the airwaves and repeatedly put pressure on MSG. In a press release, sent to media members last week, TWC claimed that they were close to an agreement with the network, but that MSG reneged and severely upped their asking price. "After pulling their original ask for a 6.5% increase in fees off the table, today MSG is demanding a 53% increase in fees over what Time Warner Cable paid in 2011," reads the press release. In a statement released to 104.5 The Team by Time Warner Communications Manager Jennifer Holick, the 53% increase was characterized as "Way out of line."
TWC goes on to explain that MSG has also demanded that their FUSE network be carried, a stipulation the cable service provider refuses to comply with, as they claim it is both expensive, and rarely watched. Mike Angus, Time Warner Cable's Senior Vice President of Content Aquisition is quoted in the press release, saying "Fuse is watched by fewer than one-tenth of one percent of the customers who have it available - that's just 4,000 customers out of more than 7.4 million. Asking our customers to pay millions for a channel they clearly don't want and don't value is nothing more than a tax on New York sports fans."
Time Warner Cable also reiterated a pledge to not take MSG and MSG+ off the air. "That ball is in MSG's court...While we continue to work through this issue, we are offering to continue carrying MSG/MSG+ at a 6.5% increase through the end of the 2011-2012 NBA and NHL seasons," the press release quotes Angus.
MSG has responded to these claims by saying "MSG knows, based on Time Warner Cable's recent activity in the sports marketplace, including its reported record-setting $5 billion agreement for the rights to the Los Angeles Lakers, that Time Warner Cable places a high value on sports programming and recognizes the importance of programming such as ours to its customers." The statement, released by MSG Media President Mike Blair goes on to say that Time Warner Cable has "Grossly mischaracterized our negotiations." According to MSG Vice President Dan Schoenberg, "We have been trying to make a deal with them for two years and they have rejected every proposal." When asked for comment about the reported demand for a price increase, Schoenberg said in an e-mail to 104.5 The Team, that "MSG [is] simply asking TWC to pay [the] same rates that other operators pay – nothing more." MSG has also stated that if no deal is reached, their networks will be pulled.
As a consumer it's hard to know exactly what to think. Time Warner cable's quoted claims and figures are overwhelmingly damning for MSG, though it's difficult to know if these are hard facts, or manipulated statistics. Conversely, if it's true that MSG is only asking TWC to pay the same rates that their other operators pay, it's difficult to understand why a company that has just signed a reported five billion dollar deal with the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't be willing to pay - though admittedly that is their right. So who is the true advocate for the fans? It's impossible to say, but too often in these fights, neither side wins and we always lose.