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January 3, 2012

Sabres fans await TV deal

— — The Buffalo Sabres play their first game of 2012 at 7 tonight when they host the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center.

But unless you’re one of the 18,690 ticket holders, have Verizon FiOS or Direct TV, you likely won’t see the game.

A battle between Time Warner Cable and Madison Square Garden Network, which holds the broadcasting rights to Sabres games, has resulted in MSG and MSG-Plus being taken off the cable provider.

The Associated Press reports neither MSG nor the cable company have more talks planned.

And with hockey fans left out in the cold, both sides are pointing the fingers at the other.

Time Warner says it won’t pay a 53 percent fee increase sought by MSG. MSG says it is not seeking a 53 percent increase. It says it wants to be paid the same as other TV providers. MSG has urged viewers to switch cable providers.

On a web page entitled “MSG Pulls the Plug on Sports fans,” Time Warner claims in a statement that MSG Networks “rejected all proposals, refused to engage in any meaningful way, and refused to allow us to keep the channel on.”

“We think MSG is being unreasonable, and unfair to fans,” the statement reads. “We do want MSG to return to our channel lineup, and we will continue to work hard to reach an agreement that gives you the sports you love at a price you can afford to pay.”

Addressing the matter on their website, MSG Networks states Time Warner has rejected every offer made in the past two years and accuses the cable company of “grossly mischaracterizing” the network’s position.

“All we have asked is for Time Warner Cable to value our programming in the same way as other TV providers — nothing more, nothing less,” reads a statement from the network.

According to dozens of media outlets, part of the dispute deals with the Fuse music channel, owned by MSG’s parent company, Cablevision. MSG hopes to package the music channel with the sports networks, but Time Warner would rather negotiate for them separately.

Other facts could also be playing roles for each side: Madison Square Garden is in the middle of a renovation that will cost nearly $1 billion, and Time Warner just paid $5 billion for Los Angeles Lakers broadcast rights.

While the dispute lingers, Time Warner is offering a free preview of the NBA League Pass through Jan. 8 and preview of the Time Warner Cable Sports Pass, a 15-channel package, through Jan. 31. That includes a nightly hockey highlight show.

“For our customers in Western New York, the launch of YNN Hockey Tonight, a new nightly hockey show, premiering Jan. 2,” is also included. According to Time Warner, YNN Hockey Tonight will have live interviews and analysis, scores, standings and other hockey information every night at 11:15 p.m. through the end of the NHL season.

The cable company is also showing the NBA Network on channel 28 and the NHL Network on channel 70, the two channels that were occupied by MSG and MSG-Plus.

Time Warner also notes on the web page that even without the MSG Networks, “fans can still see 20 percent of the remaining Sabres games on cable.” Including tonight’s game, there are 44 regular season Sabres games remaining, and Time Warner reports seven will be on NBC or NBC Sports Network, formerly known as Versus.

MSG remains in a similar dispute with Dish Network. The sports channel has been missing from the satellite TV provider since September 2010.

The loss of MSG, even for a short period, has more than just Sabres fans scrambling. The network also broadcasts New York Knicks basketball games as well as New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils hockey games. Cablevision holds a majority of the New York City cable TV market share, but Time Warner has about 1.3 million subscribers in the New York City-New Jersey area, according to a New York Daily News report.

Monday night games involving the Knicks and Devils were the first ones missed during the dispute.

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