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· Tastemaker Extraordinare
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The Cable Behemoth

A New York Post headline aptly summed up the growing power of cable operators: "Snit Hits Fans; Cable KOs Knicks, Mets."

Cablevision Systems Corp. is threatening to deprive more than 2 million New York fans of their Knicks and Mets games because of a dispute over programming costs. This wouldn't be a first — the cable giant dropped the New York Yankees during the 2002 season, claiming the Yankees' network was demanding exorbitant rates. Indeed, rising sports-channel costs are a legitimate concern for cable operators and consumers. Why should all basic cable subscribers subsidize costly sports programming that most don't watch? But Cablevision and other operators would have more credibility on the issue if they weren't discriminating in favor of their own sports channels.

In New York, Cablevision reigns over a sports and entertainment empire that is the sports equivalent of the old Hollywood studio system before it was broken up on antitrust grounds. It owns Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the NBA Knicks franchise and the NHL's Rangers, as well as the cable channel (the MSG network) that broadcasts the teams' games.

You'd think Cablevision wouldn't want to call attention to its monopolistic control over professional sports in Manhattan. Think again — the cable operator is leading the fight against a proposed New York Jets football stadium on the island's far west side. Championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the stadium, a privately financed facility that would require public funding to cover the old rail yards over which it would be built, would anchor development of the neighborhood and the city's 2012 Olympic bid, as well as enhance the city's convention center.

But Cablevision, loath to see an alternative entertainment venue in midtown Manhattan, has spent millions lobbying against the Jets project (after backing out of talks with the Jets to be partners on the deal). Then it recklessly dreamed up an alternative development plan and has bid on the rail yards property itself. Most alarming of all, Cablevision blocked pro-stadium ads from its cable system. That prompted the Jets to file a lawsuit accusing the cable operator of violating antitrust laws.

It seems to us that New York stands to benefit from a modern stadium on the waterfront, financed largely by the team's owner, but that is a matter for New Yorkers to decide. The growing power of cable operators to restrain trade and competition, on the other hand, is a matter for Congress and the rest of the nation to keep an eye on.
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