A stadium shot of Madison Square Garden during the Knicks’ first playoff game in the 2011 season. Photo by mith17.
Cablevision CEO James Dolan and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes are in the middle of a heated battle over 87th place on Forbes’ CEO compensation list for 2012, and they don’t care who gets in the way. At the moment, Dolan is edging out Bewkes by $20,000 annually, but not for long if Bewkes manages to edge out Dolan in the MSG contract debate. Because the contract between Time Warner and MSG expired on December 31st, 2011, fans of the Knicks, Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, New York Bulls (soccer), and The LAX Report will have to either have to find another way to watch their team, switch cable companies, or start rooting for the Nets.
Ok, so the fictional rich people cockfight between Dolan and Bewkes isn’t actually the basis of the Time Warner-Cablevision contract disputes, but rather a decade-long struggle by New York sports teams to make sure cable companies are properly handling their broadcasted images. In 2002, the Yankees and Nets ended Cablevision’s local sports broadcasting monopoly. When their contract expired in 2005, the Mets started the SNY channel, which was funded almost entirely by Bernie Madoff (a paltry $54 million loan on his part). There have been about a dozen newspaper-worthy complications between Time Warner, Cablevision, and New York sports teams resulting in oppressed sports fans sulkily watching Jeopardy while Alex Trebek taunts them with his charmingly dispassionate demeanor.
When you’re blacked out and you can’t back out of your contract because your cable provider edges out all competition in your area, you either quit watching sports or you start listening to AM radio, which won’t be around once everyone over 50 today dies.
And it’s not just New Yorkers who feel the pain of a company that figuratively pepper sprays its customers, but the entire country.
However deplorable the customer service reputation is for Time Warner, all is not lost for sports fans expecting to be curb-stomped again and again by the monopolistic fun-and-games of cable conglomerates. Verizon’s recent acquisition of broadcasting rights for MSG and MSG+ will give Knicks and Rangers fans who have access to FiOS an alternative, and it is likely that Verizon will become stiffer competition for Time Warner and Cablevision once their plans for citywide domination via fiber optic cables is complete (eta: 2014). In fact, there were reports in past years confirming that Mayor Bloomberg had conducted private talks with Verizon concerning the project as early as 2007, which means the Mayor is sick and tired of – oh no, you didn’t just put me on hold again, you lazy good-for-nothin – oh, you didn’t put me on hold? Ah. Well in that case, I was talking to the teacher’s union rep.
Not to be intimidated by their own notoriety, Time Warner has been offering certain customers “Loyalty Discounts,” which are monthly fee cuts to persuade people not to cut the ties and find a new provider (if they can).
Another local celebrity, Eliot Spitzer, was heavily involved in past arbitration proceedings between Cablevision, MSG, and Time Warner during his time as Attorney General of New York. In 2003, he expedited the deal between the YES network and Cablevision, and in 2004, he helped end a 10-day blackout of Mets games much to the chagrin of Mets fans who might have viewed it as a blessing in disguise.
Some in the industry feel that paying a premium for channels dedicated to local sports teams should become a market norm. Though it sounds reasonable socially to segregate the sports fans from Gleeks and Big Bang Theorists, there’s also a great number of casual fans who don’t want to pay for the option of watching the Charlotte Bobcats pretend they’re a professional basketball team, or waste their lives playing fantasy sports to justify getting an overabundance of sports information.
Hopefully Cablevision’s James Dolan and Time Warner’s Jeffrey Bewkes come to some kind of agreement and end all this foolishness about their CEO compensation. If they don’t, and the Knicks and Rangers remain outside many a fan’s viewing radius, I’ll be starting up a D-league cable company in my apartment. Totally not unillegal re-broadcasts of not non-copyrighted material! I only accept beer and/or sesame chicken platters as forms of payment.