Does New York have the juice to forge Time Warner-MSG truce?
Since the beginning of the year, Time Warner Cable’s 2 million New York subscribers have not been able to view any Madison Square Garden games, causing many upset New York Knicks fans to miss all the Linsanity surrounding the team.
Yes, even 23-year-old Jeremy Lin‘s grandmother can view the point guard’s games in Taiwan, but not his adoring fans here in New York if they’re Time Warner customers, because the contract between Time Warner and MSG ended January 1 after the cable company refused to pay an extra 53 percent to MSG to have its network on the cable.
Many are hoping the pressure from Lin’s fans – who have been venting their frustration through social media and feedback to the cable company – will help bring about an agreement between TWC and MSG to end the impasse. Time Warner might just cave to the clear advantage MSG holds: the latter has had average ratings up 87 percent since just seven games ago when Lin (@JLin7) started his string of career best performances (even outscoring LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant 38-34 last week) and Knicks victories.
But perhaps New York itself could do something about this for its growing community of eager Lin fanatics and the media frenzy Linsanity is feeding, which has gotten so crazy an ESPN reporter supposedly ran into and interviewed another ESPN reporter in Chinatown.
The New York World wants to know: Does New York have any leverage to bring Jeremy Lin and the Knicks back on Time Warner Cable?
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What we found
The city and state could, in theory, exert additional pressure on Time Warner and MSG, respectively, by squeezing — or threatening to cut back on — benefits the two companies currently enjoy.
Time Warner has the most cable television franchise agreements with the city, and while TWC is paying for the franchise, it has given them semi-exclusive access the city’s market since 1998.
Madison Square Garden has an even better deal: a longtime $12 million property tax exemption. Despite costing the city some $300 million since it was signed in 1982 in the midst of fear of New York losing the Knicks and Rangers, the tax exemption has somehow survived efforts from the City Council to discontinue it, thanks to Albany allies.
Could New York use these deals as leverage to get both parties to broker peace and bring Jeremy Lin back on Time Warner? Yes, says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
But will Albany and Mayor Michael Bloomberg ever actually do that?
“In order to use the exemption as leverage, they’d actually have to threaten to amend state law but that’s quite a time-consuming process, and even with the franchises, it’s still complicated,” said Thompson, who thinks it’s more likely that both companies will work out a deal on their own before then.
“Whenever blackouts happen, it’s always bad for both – the content provider [MSG] is not in the markets and it’s a PR nightmare for cable providers when they’re not giving people their Jeremy Lin. My guess is they’ll come to an agreement because that’s what’s in their interests.”