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FiOS can't show Sabres in high-def

This is what I'm thinking:

*Some Buffalo Sabres fans who considered dropping Time Warner Cable in favor of Verizon's new FiOS have done a Brian Campbell spin-a-rama because of a hat trick of hockey issues.

They have dropped plans to switch because FiOS isn't carrying the Sabres home games off MSG in HD.

Verizon wants FiOS to carry the games in HD (the Sabres want them to do so also) but Verizon claims that MSG's owner, Cablevision, only provides the games to it in standard definition and is "skirting around" some rules to keep it from carrying them in HD. If so, that prevents it from competing fairly with this area's largest cable company. Verizon added it has complained to the Federal Communications Commission.

FiOS also doesn't yet have a deal to carry CBC but a spokesman said it eventually plans to offer the network that carries Hockey Night in Canada. It also doesn't yet have a deal with The NHL Network or NHL HD, which will carry the HNIC Saturday doubleheaders. However, FiOS carries the NFL Network -- which isn't on TWC -- on its basic service.

Amusingly, TWC subscribers can get CBC's games in HD via NHL Network HD when the local Toronto affiliate, CBLT, isn't carried in HD. The Sabres have five games on the 75-game NHL HD schedule, including a Jan. 28 game in Calgary.

*Clarification: The reports that ESPN analyst Matthew Barnaby will do for ESPN.com are video reports, not written ones.

Time to rake leaves. With the Bills on a bye Sunday and it being a Fox doubleheader week, viewers who can get Channel 4 without cable are only getting the 1 p.m. game Sunday between the New York Jets and the winless Cincinnati Bengals. So clearly there won't be much pressure on TWC here to kiss and make up with LIN TV this weekend.

*Nine of the Bills' future games are on CBS, with the Nov. 17 game with Cleveland on ESPN and the Nov. 30 San Francisco game on WUTV, the Fox affiliate. If the Bills continue to play well, a late-season game could move to NBC's Sunday Night Football as a flex game, too.

I hate to think of the fallout if the Bills make the playoffs and this lose-lose TWC/LIN battle isn't over.

*A sign that the Apocalypse is coming: CBS reports that ratings for its Elitexc Saturday Night Fights last Saturday topped college football and the major league baseball playoffs in the key young male demographic. The mixed martial arts card placed first in men aged 18 to 34 and tied for first in men 18 through 49 against other sports events.

*Remember Chuck Howard, the former Channel 4 sportscaster? The pride of Pine Valley, who left Channel 4 to work in Charlotte in 1995, sent along a Charlotte Observer article that reports he is becoming the news producer for NASCAR. According to Mark Washburn of the Observer, "Howard will develop shows and stories for television, radio and Internet outlets as part of a larger effort by NASCAR to connect with local news outlets nationwide."

Speaking of NASCAR, ESPN reports that Buffalo ranked 17th in the country among the top 50 markets for ABC's coverage of the Talladega Sprint Cup race with a 6.1 rating. ESPN noted that the rating was higher than it was in Norfolk and Atlanta, which are considered NASCAR stronghold markets. Three of the four Sprint Cup races had a rating of 4.5 or higher in Buffalo, with the area finishing No. 15 for the race in New Hampshire (beating Atlanta, Norfolk and Tampa-St. Petersburg) and No. 16 for the Kansas race (beating Norfolk, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Memphis).

*Here's some good news for long-suffering fans of the New York Knicks. Their games this season will be carried locally on MSG HD, which means they won't be pre-empted by Sabres games. The Sabre games are on a separate HD channel. The Knicks games also air on TWC 13 or Channel 72 when Sabre games pre-empt the standard definition feed.

*Because of the TWC-LIN dispute, the Bills' 41-17 loss to Arizona Sunday was available to only about half of the Western New York market and had about half its normal rating. The 20.4 rating on WIVB-TV still was higher than the NFL market teams playing in Miami, Seattle, Atlanta and San Francisco-Oakland.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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