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MSG, Time Warner and the Lin-sanity effect

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks drives

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks drives against Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings. (Feb. 15, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The frenzy of basketball fan interest in the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin has prompted, for the first time since December, a face-to-face meeting between negotiators for Time Warner Cable and Madison Square Garden Co.'s MSG Network, according to an MSG executive interviewed on the radio Wednesday.

Time Warner's 2.8 million customers in the New York City metro area haven’t been able to watch Lin spark a Knicks’ winning streak because the cable provider and MSG are locked in a fee dispute.

Until they work it out, Time Warner isn’t carrying MSG, or the Knicks — or the Lin-sanity craze.

News of renewed negotiations came in a radio interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa. He was speaking to Michael Bair, president of MSG Media.

“Have there been any talks since this Lin phenomenon has begun?” Francesa asked.

“Yes,” Bair replied.

“We actually — we had stopped talking, we had not met since the middle of December,” Bair said, by way of background.

Bair added: “There was a conversation, a face-to-face meeting this week.”

Then on WFAN came six more minutes of banter before Bair expanded on the week’s news.

“I do think that right now, because of the Lin story, because of the performance of the team and what we have seen in the ratings, that now is the time to do a deal,” Bair said.

That might seem like optimism — however, Bair dampened that, saying, “But at the same time, we’ve been going through this for two years and countless proposals and they’ve rejected every one. So I’m not overly optimistic.”

Further, host Mike Francesa paraphrased an earlier conversation he’d had with a Time Warner exec who denied any breakthrough had taken place, saying, “We haven’t had any real meetings.”

Bair’s view on WFAN was that little has changed since December, when MSG stopped appearing on Time Warner.

Newsday reported in January that the two sides agree that Time Warner should increase its payments to MSG.

What remains in dispute is size of the hike; Time Warner says MSG is asking for a 53 percent fee hike; and said MSG had, at one point, asked for only a 6.5 percent increase — which Time Warner is willing to pay. Bair, on the air, said MSG disputes the numbers.

The Madison Square Garden Co. is a spinoff of Cablevision Systems Corp., which owns Newsday. Both MSG and Cablevision are controlled by the Dolan family and Cablevision’s chief executive, James L. Dolan, 56, is executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Co.

Time Warner did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

Bair, in a Thursday email to Newsday, said higher ratings are an important component of the network's value.

"MSG’s ratings for Knicks games continue to establish new benchmarks as Jeremy Lin and the Knicks continue to play such exciting basketball," Bair said.

"The top operators in the market recognize the value of our programming and the content that we offer, and all we’ve asked of Time Warner Cable is to recognize that fair market value," he said.

Francesa's interview with Bair



Francesa's interview with Time Warner spokesman Eric Mangan




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