Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In the arguement between MSG and Time Warner Cable, the fans are the ones losing

(Update: The New York Times began reporting Friday afternoon that MSG and Time Warner Cable had reached an agreement to end the stand-off. Click here to read the full New York Times story.)

(Author's note: The dispute between Time Warner Cable and the MSG Network has been resolved, not three hours after this column went online. The details of the deal have yet to be released, but the arguements made below for a timely conclusion suggest the 48 days it took for the two sides to come to an agreement was comically long and without the best interests of the fans at heart. Both MSG and Time Warner Cable still come out of this deal looking like the bad guys.)

On Jan. 1, Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on the MSG channel, citing the network’s increased demand on subscription fees. The Daily News reported that MSG wanted a 6.5 percent fee increase while Time Warner claimed the network wanted 53 percent more; as the two sides pointed fingers and blamed each other, I sat back and didn’t care.

After all, it was Week 17 in the NFL, and the Giants needed a New Year’s win over the Cowboys just to make the playoffs, bowl season was underway and I was not yet ready to shift my focus away from the gridiron.

Even after the Super Bowl, when my focus landed on college hoops, the NBA and the NHL, there wasn’t much lost for me without the MSG network. The Knicks immediately drew ire and lethargy from the fans who could see them or read about Carmelo Anthony’s near-40 percent shooting from the field. I took the plunge and purchased the NBA league pass and knew I could wait until the playoffs to jump back into hockey.

I will preface the next statement with some transparency by noting that I am not a fan of either the Knicks or Rangers, so my sounds of desperation will not sound like the loud ramblings of a WFAN call-in, but now, a month and a half after the plug was pulled, can anyone remember a worse time for MSG to be blacked out?

Even without being a fan of either professional team broadcast on MSG, I can still appreciate games when they are played at their highest level and have quality story lines, and the Knicks and Rangers are stocking both in bulk.

It seems almost silly to reiterate the accomplishments of the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin here, as the fairy-tale point guard has racked up a career’s worth of accomplishments over the course of seven games (all wins), while defeating all-stars. With both of the team’s stars, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, not on the floor, Lin’s contributions saved the Knicks, and Knicks fans, from the disappointment of mediocre basketball and potentially missing the playoffs.

According to the New York Post, Lin did the unthinkable — he made the Raptors watchable. The game, which ended with Lin hitting the game-winning 3-pointer, drew 344,272 households, the highest-rated game on MSG since Anthony’s much-hyped debut game last year. If the game were available to the reported 2.8 million Time Warner subscribers who were blocked from watching, that number would have certainly been higher.

The Knicks did not miss a beat when Stoudemire returned, allowing Lin to act more like a distributor on his way to 13 assists in an easy win over Jimmer Fredette and the Kings. And with Anthony slated to return either tonight against New Orleans or Sunday against Dallas, the idea of the three playing together with Tyson Chandler (and J.R. Smith, the talented guard tweeted Friday morning that he plans to join the Knicks) basketball fans the world over are excited to see how this team can come together to finish the regular season.

Fans are making their own homemade Lin jerseys and paraphernalia to wear to games and are flocking in droves to any television airing the second-year player’s ascent. The potential for this team has reached its zenith, and fans want to be a part of this special year, yet the blackout has done nothing but blockade those fans and push them to bars with dish service.

Still, Lin’s success has gone so far as to raise the stock of MSG itself. The website and contributing writer Steven Kiel wrote on Valentine’s Day, “Today, because of Jeremy Lin, shares hit a new 52-week high of $32.30. With 62.08 shares outstanding, today's move up of $1.15 means the market thinks Jeremy Lin's weekend success is worth $71.4 million.”

The Rangers — the first-place team in the Eastern Conference — should also be a heavy draw for the network. The team is grinding out tough wins and sits one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the most in the league. The team has marketable stars in Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Marion Gaborik, Dan Girardi and Brandon Dubinsky, and is legitimately fun to watch.

I found myself drawn in to their 4-2 loss to Chicago Thursday night, and could easily see myself recording some of their games to watch after the newspaper shift if the team were broadcast. I am simply drawn to good hockey and that’s what the Rangers are delivering. Apparently this is nothing new for this season’s team. reported on Dec. 29, only two days before the network blackout, that through the first 32 games this season, ratings for Rangers games were up 16 percent from the year before. Granted, this was a time when the NHL was unlikely to have piqued the interest of casual winter sports fans like myself. Those fans want their hockey now, and aside from the random NBC Sports and NHLNET games that air, there is no consistent source for Rangers hockey.

MSG seems to be doing just fine without its Time Warner consumers, but it should be noted, as the Daily News reports, even though viewership has been up 109 percent since Linsanity began, the network is still losing about $10 million in subscription fees per month since losing the bulk of its Time Warner subscribers. Without those customers, MSG Network cannot charge advertisers premium for air time. Therefore, they are allowing this squabble with Time Warner to cost them even more profits.

Time Warner is faring no better in this argument. The New York Post reported that customers are “flooding its switchboard with complaints.”

This season has the potential to be incredibly memorable for New York sports, yet MSG and Time Warner have taken a pair of local teams and put them as far away as a television market can be in the digital age. At least when they make the playoffs, each game will be nationally televised and we can leave the two companies to argue amongst themselves all summer.

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