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Time Warner Cable, MSG reach deal. Linsanity at work?

Time Warner Cable and MSG sports have ended a seven-week blackout of Knicks games for TWC customers. Fan furor over Jeremy Lin – 'Linsanity' – probably played a huge role.

Fank Franklin II/AP
New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin talks with teammates Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire during the second half of a game against the Sacramento Kings earlier this week in New York. Because of a dispute between the MSG sports network and Time Warner Cable, millions of New York fans had been missing out on 'Linsanity' on television.

Is there anyone more perfect for the Chiantown sports fan to root for than Jeremy Lin? He’s a New York Knick, the first Asian American to play in the NBA, and he’s taking the world by storm. Asians and Asian Americans alike are claiming him as their own, but for the perennially disappointed Knicks fan, Lin is a far-flung dream come true.

Yes, Lin committed nine turnovers Friday night, allowing the New Orleans Hornets to put an end to the Knicks seven-game winning streak. But "Linsanity" lives on. Lin may have single-handedly resolved a dispute that prevented millions of his local fans from watching him on television.

Time Warner Cable and the regional MSG (Madison Square Garden) network, which broadcasts all Knicks games (as well as those of the NHL’s Rangers, who also play at the Garden), have reached an agreement allowing Time Warner to begin airing Knicks games in the New York area. The two companies were embroiled in a contract dispute, which resulted in the channel being blacked out for approximately 2.8 million Time Warner customers since Jan. 1.

The dispute was over how much Time Warner will pay to carry MSG: It currently costs cable providers $2.56 per household to carry the network. Time Warner claimed that MSG was demanding a 53 percent increase in subscriber fees; MSG claimed that Time Warner was lying about that figure but wouldn't publicly specify their demands.

New Yorkers didn’t seem to be paying much attention for the first few weeks. The Knicks looked to be on track for another disappointing season, and fan outcry was minimal. Then two weeks ago Lin came along, and all eyes have been fixated on the Knicks ever since. Or at least, they’ve wanted to be.

Since Linsanity hit, thousands of irate TWC subscribers have intensified pressure on the provider to get a deal done. On Twitter, profanity-laden posts from frustrated TWC customers begged the two companies to end their impasse and get the Knicks back on the air. “@MSG @timewarnercable please resolve and get #Knicks #Linsanity #NYR back on the air in NYC,” says Christopher Meron (@chrismaron), in one of the more civil posts.

Local New York politicians were even getting involved in the fray. Friday morning, the New York Post reported that New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn sent letters to the executives of the feuding companies, warning that if  “discussions cannot produce a resolution within two weeks, the City Council will hold hearings and request that both parties explain themselves to the public.”

“At a time when all New Yorkers are getting together behind Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks, now is the time to resolve this dispute once and for all,” Ms. Quinn wrote in the letters, obtained by the Post.

In a bit of PR goodwill, MSG executives held a viewing party for Wednesday’s Knicks game against the Sacramento Kings, complete with free dim sum, for Chinatown residents who have been affected by the blackout. According to the New York Times, the lack of Lin has been more acutely felt in Chinatown because of a lack of sports bars in the neighborhood.

Ratings on the MSG network have surged 71 percent this season, and 52 percent during games featuring Lin. He seems to be having a direct impact on MSG’s finances as well: On Feb. 14, MSG stock climbed 3.8 percent to $32.32 per share – its highest level in a year.  But the TWC dispute was reportedly costing MSG approximately $10 million per month in lost carriage fees.

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