Jim Dolan dons many hats.
As chief executive of cable operator Cablevision Systems Corp., part of his job is to be the tough guy. He rails against yielding channel space to networks that have tiny audiences because extra channels raise the bills for his customers.
That was the case last year when he fought unsuccessfully against carrying some low-rated cable and broadcast channels owned by News Corp. in return for getting access to the Fox network.
However, when Dolan is wearing his hat as chairman of Madison Square Garden Co., the opposite is true. His job is to get little-watched cable channels distributed.
Madison Square Garden Co., parent of popular New York-based cable sports channels MSG and MSG+ -- home to the New York Knicks and Rangers -- wants Time Warner Cable to put its low-rated music network Fuse back on its systems.
Time Warner Cable, which has systems serving most of the city of New York, is trying to negotiate a new deal to carry the MSG channels but no longer wants Fuse, which it dropped last week.
Fuse was watched by "fewer than one-tenth of 1% of the customers who have it available," or just 4,000 of the cable company's 7.4 million subscribers that get the network, Time Warner Cable said in a statement.
Time Warner Cable has indicated it is willing to pay more to carry the MSG networks and would accept a 6.5% increase in fees for the channels. That was rejected, Time Warner Cable said, and now Madison Square Garden is asking for a 53% bump in price to carry only the MSG networks.
"Programming costs are skyrocketing, and we work very hard to negotiate lower fee increases to keep our customers’ bills as reasonable as possible. Fifty-three percent is not reasonable in anybody’s book –- I doubt many of our customers got a 53% raise this year," said Mike Angus, Time Warner Cable's senior vice president of content acquisition.
According to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm, the two MSG channels cost a combined $5.00 per subscriber per month. Time Warner Cable also paid about 8 cents per month per subscriber for Fuse, a figure that one former executive at the channel said was twice as much as what other distributors pay. Time Warner Cable declined to comment on what it pays for Fuse.
The contract between Time Warner Cable and Madison Square Garden for the MSG channels is up at the end of the year. Time Warner Cable has said it won't pull the MSG channels from its systems.
"We have been attempting to negotiate a new agreement with Time Warner Cable for close to two years, and are simply asking them to pay fair and reasonable rates that are consistent with what other providers pay for our programming –- nothing more,” said Michael Bair, president of MSG Media.
“Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable is not interested in reaching a fair agreement, and, in fact, is not interested in conducting productive negotiations on behalf of its customers," added Bair.
Dolan, who became CEO after his father and company founder Chuck Dolan stepped back, also has a third hat -- that of a blues singer. He has his own band -- JD and the Straight Shot. Unfortunately, he's not singing Time Warner Cable's tune.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Jim Dolan. Credit: Jeff Christensen / Associated Press