Newsday Rejects Ad Criticizing Cablevision

August 18, 2009

Newsday last week rejected an advertisement from the Tennis Channel that sharply criticizes the newspaper’s parent company, Cablevision, for not carrying the network.

“Thanks for nothing Cablevision,” says the ad, which shows a tennis racket smashing a cable box.

It adds: “You’ve dropped the ball by preventing your subscribers from seeing Tennis Channel’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. Open.” It invites Cablevision customers to switch to DirecTV, Dish TV or Verizon FiOS to get access to the coverage.

The channel said that the ad was accepted by all the newspapers it was offered to — the New York Times, New York Post, Daily News, Westchester-Rockland Journal News and the Record of New Jersey.

Newsday’s decision not to carry the ad raises questions about the paper’s independence from Cablevision and whether it would have accepted the ad under its previous owner, the Tribune Company.

Bob Steele, an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, said, “There are times when a newspaper says no to an ad because they find it objectionable on taste grounds, or find it filled with hatred for a particular group of people. But this one doesn’t measure up in terms of protection because they’re protecting themselves.”

John Mancini, the editor of Newsday, would not comment and Tim Knight, the publisher, did not respond to requests for comment. But in a statement, Cablevision wrote: “The Tennis Channel ads are nasty, unfair and intentionally misleading, and we don’t think anyone should carry them.”

Neither Cablevision nor Newsday would say who made the decision not to accept the ad.

Ken Solomon, the chief executive of the Tennis Channel, said that after four years of fruitless negotiations with Cablevision, the ad was “a court of last resort.” He added, “We desperately wish we weren’t in this situation. This wasn’t of our choosing. But at some point you have to look a bully in the eye and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ ”

He said the network has received “thousands of emails” from Cablevision subscribers wanting to know why the cable operator doesn’t carry it. “They can’t get it and they get angry at us,” he said.

In its statement, Cablevision described Tennis Channel’s leaders as “only interested in money,” and said it would add the channel to its lineup “tomorrow” if Solomon would accept a fair deal. It continued: “No Cablevision customer is going to miss the U.S. Open on television, with the best and significant matches available on CBS and ESPN.” The Tennis Channel is one of the least expensive national sports networks available, costing a monthly fee of 14 to 15 cents a subscriber, according to SNL Kagan, a media research company. At that price, it costs about a dime less than the Golf Channel, and a few cents less than ESPNU and the Fox Soccer Channel.

The Tennis Channel’s decision to pick a public fight with Cablevision comes two weeks before its first-time coverage of the United States Open. Last year, the Tennis Channel and ESPN agreed to take over as the Grand Slam’s cable partners through 2014, replacing the USA Network. The Tennis Channel is sublicensing rights from ESPN.

Together, the Tennis Channel and ESPN2 plan to show an estimated 334 hours, up from 125 last year on USA.

Less than one-third of the Tennis Channel’s planned 239 hours of coverage will be live; the rest will be replays of matches and studio programming.

The Tennis Channel is available in 25 million cable, satellite and telephone company households on various tiers of service. For majors like the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open, to which the network has rights, the figure balloons to about 55 million. Practically all of the major providers have come to terms with the Tennis Channel with the exception of Cablevision and AT&T U-verse. Cablevision has demonstrated a tough approach to adding new channels before, most notably in a long fight over carrying the YES Network.

Solomon said he had hoped ownership of Newsday would not make a difference in whether the paper would accept the ad because it involves a news event that takes place within Cablevision’s region, which includes Long Island, Brooklyn and Westchester.

“We figured this was just business and simply a message to let viewers know where to find us,” he said. “The newspaper industry is not doing all that well, so it’s a surprise they turned down this amount of money.”