Opening day for the Yankees Entertainment Sports Network (YES) last Tuesday was filled with baseball cliches. An ongoing squeeze play with Cablevision over carriage and a couple of errors on Time Warner Cable systems marred the home opener. It coulda been a home run; it was more like a ground rule double.
Leo Hindery, YES chief executive, got the channel on RCN, DirecTV, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, giving the network a ticket into 2.5 million New York area households, most importantly Manhattan. About the same number will be on board when YES gets agreements in outlying areas with Cox and Charter systems, and U.S Cable and Mid-Hudson Valley Cable; the latter two are apparently days away from being done deals.
That leaves looming three million Cablevision subs, mainly on Long Island, who have become, like a star slugger, hard to get. Harder to swallow is that Cablevision serves the Bronx, which the Yankees call home.
Cablevision chief Jim Dolan refuses to pay the $2 per subscriber fee that YES wants to make the channel part of the basic service; Dolan wants to offer YES as a premium service and has been taking out newspaper and television ads touting that point of view. In YES counter-ads, Hindery laments Cablevision's play and suggests Cablevision viewers sign up for DirecTV.
"I think this is probably the saddest couple of weeks of my whole time in the industry because I don't like these fights," says Hindery. Then, referring to the executives at the other cable or DBS outlets that are carrying YES, he continues: "You meet somebody like Dick Parsons, Brian Roberts or Eddie Hartenstein and they decided it was a service that brings value to their viewers so they put it on. Jim Dolan's prerogative is to decide otherwise."
Cablevision spokesman Charlie Schueler says succinctly, "It's very expensive programming, and at the current price we believe our customers should have the choice whether or not they purchase the games."
Both Hindery and Schueler admit talks are nonexistent between the two companies.
"The way I've gotten through life is if people I trust and respect think I'm screwing up, I pretty much conclude I am," says Hindery. "But if people I trust like what I'm doing and one guy says no, then maybe that one guy is screwing up."
Analog TWC viewers had problems the first two nights. First, the picture was jittery, because a satellite receiver wasn't set properly, said Time Warner spokeswoman Harriet Novet. The second night, YES lost its signal for about 45 minutes in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan because of satellite problems.