As Time Warner Cable's (NYSE: TWC) carriage dispute with MSG stretches into a second month, the nation's second largest cable MSO has managed to limit the impact that the loss of the network has had on sports fans by offering all subscribers free access to NHL Network and NBA TV.
MSG pulled its feed from Time Warner Cable after its contract expired on Dec. 31. While the loss of games from the New York Knicks, the Buffalo Sabres, the New York Rangers and other teams has prompted some hardcore fans to visit sports bars that offer DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) programming, reports suggest that the MSO has managed to appease some fans by offering access to the league-owned hockey and basketball networks.
Headlined "Thank you James Dolan and Time Warner," Huffington Post ran a column Sunday from Kelli Gail, a writer and Knicks fan who said she became hooked on NBA Network after only previously watching games from the MSG-owned basketball team. "Forced to get my b-ball fix from another source, I discovered that the NBA TV Network had taken the place of MSG Network on Channel 27. Thinking I would just watch for a few minutes then continue channel surfing, I was surprised when a close Cavs/Heat game pulled me in. Another night, it was a battle for LA with a Clippers vs. Lakers game. Next a magically exciting Memphis/Clips game appeared. I was hooked," she writes. "Given Knicks 7-13 record, James Dolan and company are actually doing me a favor."
Dolan is CEO of Cablevision (NYSE: CVC), and also controls MSG, which Cablevision spun off in 2010.
The Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle, which ran a feature last week focused on how the dispute has impacted local sports bars, noted that the "blow has been softened" by Time Warner Cable's addition of NHL and NBA TV. The dispute has increased business for sports bars that carry DirecTV programming, but newspaper quoted the owner of one local pub carrying Time Warner Cable programming that has seen business drop 35 percent from Sabres fans who are going elsewhere to watch hockey games.
The dispute is generating negative publicity for both MSG and Time Warner Cable. The New York Daily news profiled a five-year-old Manhattan boy who misses watching Knicks games with his father, and wrote a letter to Time Warner Cable asking for the return of the games. He signed the letter, "Love, Bodie Seidler," with a blue marker.
Time Warner Cable hasn't said how the dispute has impacted its subscriber count. Last week, it reported that it lost 129,000 basic video customers during the fourth quarter, which closed before it lost the MSG feed.
2011 Year In Review: Retransmission consent battles get ugly
N.Y. attorney general to broker Time Warner Cable-MSG talks
Time Warner Cable feuds with Cablevision over MSG fees
Time Warner Cable gets aggressive post-Q4; offers 1 free year of phone service to wideband Internet subs
MSG pulls plug on Time Warner Cable
Time Warner Cable CEO pushes for sports tiers