TWC fouls out in deal for MSG Network, MSG Plus


NBA fans in the New York region can't catch a break.

First it was a labor impasse between owners and players that delayed the season's start until Christmas Day. Then, it was a spat between operators AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and MSG Network and MSG Plus over the quality of the feed the two operators could get from the company just spun off from Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and still under the auspices of Cablevision CEO Jimmy Dolan.

Now, it's a carriage dispute between Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and the two networks.

TWC, for its part, said it almost had reached a deal with the two networks before they brought a "whopping" increase back to the table, refusing to negotiate further. The result? For subscribers, a black screen. For both TWC and MSG Networks, a black eye with consumers who increasingly are getting fed up with being used as pawns.

The past week has seen a parade of announcements from operators and content owners about carriage and retransmission agreements or the lack of the same.

For Suddenlink, a last-minute deal between it and Hoak Media (three stations in Louisiana and Arkansas), as well as Meredith Corp. (Phoenix, Kansas City, Mo. and Nashville, Tenn.) kept viewers from staring at blank screens. It negotiated a brief stay with Newport Television for another 10 stations, and said negotiations were ongoing.

AT&T's U-verse nearly lost at least one station at the New Year, but it managed to extend its deal in Knoxville, Tenn.--along with one in Louisville, Ky.--until the end of February. Verizon, too, announced its share of agreements, chief among them its deal with Media General for NBC affiliates in Providence, R.I., and Tampa/St. Pete., Fla. Mediacom, meanwhile, cut deals with three stations in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Through it all, local TV stations set emails to viewers. They posted on blogs and even took out ads in newspapers to tell them their side of the story. They reminded these local folks about how they're also local folks... the ones who bring them news, sports, weather and traffic updates. They ride floats in Memorial Day parades, show up at Friday night football games and host events all over town.

WTZN, just prior to reaching its extension with AT&T, went as far as to remind viewers that it also was available on Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH), DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV), on local cable operators and-- gasp!--over the air.

Fighting "local" businesses--especially ones that have a high profile and are well regarded by the populace--is a losing battle. Operators need to be aware of the animus they create when they go toe-to-toe with local celebrities. Because, even though cord cutting may, as some execs like to contend, be a myth, it can become a reality pretty darn quickly.--Jim.