MSG, Time Warner Cable to End Blackout

Linsanity, pols force a resolution to the 48-day dispute

Thanks to the intervention of some New York political heavyweights, the seven-week staring contest between MSG Network and Time Warner Cable came to an end on Friday afternoon (Feb. 17).

After having refused to negotiate with one another throughout the standoff, Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan and Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt have worked out a preliminary agreement to return the MSG feed to some 1.1 million TWC households in the New York metro area.

Dolan and Britt effectively were muscled into a negotiation after City Council speaker Christine Quinn threatened to drag both executives in front of a public hearing, where they would be made to answer to an increasingly aggravated public.

In a letter sent to both executives, Quinn on Thursday warned that she’d schedule a hearing before the City Council if a resolution weren’t reached by March. The perceived front-runner to succeed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Quinn deftly played the Jeremy Lin card.

“At a time when all New Yorkers are getting together behind Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks, now is the time to resolve this dispute once and for all,” Quinn wrote. An undrafted Harvard grad who has turned the basketball world upside-down since making his first career start for the Knicks, Lin scored 136 points in his first five outings while leading the team to seven straight wins.

Also throwing his clout behind New York sports fans was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who worked the phones this week in a bid to spark a resolution. Late Friday afternoon, the governor confirmed the standoff was over: “I applaud both Mr. Dolan and Mr. Britt and their companies,” he wrote in a statement. “I thank them for being responsive to the needs of New Yorkers.”

Quinn soon followed suit with a confirmation of her own. “I want to thank the MSG Network and Time Warner Cable for coming to a deal that will put the Knicks and the Rangers back on TV,” the speaker said. “Now, a million more New Yorkers will be able to go Linsane in the privacy of their own living room. I’m looking forward to watching the return of Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks and Henrik Lundqvist.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is said to have brokered the deal.

Along with giving New Yorkers unfettered access to their Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, the treaty caps a seemingly eternal pissing match between the RSN and the region’s dominant cable operator.

As is always the case, carriage fees were at the heart of the battle. According to Time Warner, MSG demanded a 53 percent increase in its carriage fee, an assertion the network characterized as factually inaccurate.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Per SNL Kagan estimates, operators pay $4.91 per sub per month for the right to carry the RSN’s feeds—$2.63 for MSG and $2.28 for MSG Plus.

The costs associated with delivering sports programming have made RSNs some of the priciest channels on the cable dial. In New York, YES Network (Yankees/New Jersey Nets) costs operators $2.99 per sub per month, while SportsNet New York (Mets) carries a fee of $2.55.

The average carriage fee for a nationally distributed basic cable network is 26 cents per sub per month. ESPN is the most expensive channel on the dial, with an average affiliate fee of $4.69.