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FiOS touts addition of MSG broadcasts; Could lure viewers from Time Warner

While Time Warner Cable's dispute with MSG could result in the loss of Sabres games, and possibly customers, one of its competitors is touting its recently added high-definition broadcasts of MSG programs.

Verizon FiOS started broadcasting MSG channels in HD a couple of weeks ago. Sabres games and other programs had been available to FiOS viewers only in standard definition.

The fiber-optic TV service's lack of high-definition MSG channels was a turn-off for existing and potential customers, said Ellen Yu, a company spokeswoman.

"For sports fans, and I suspect particularly for Buffalo Sabres fans in your hockey-crazed area, this is huge," Yu said. "Getting MSG channels in HD removes a barrier from people's minds as far as switching to FiOS TV. Our customers -- and potential customers -- have been clamoring for it, and we fought in the courts and at the FCC to get it for them."

The timing of the addition of HD broadcasts on FiOS to coincide with the Time Warner-MSG dispute was a result of a court ruling. Verizon won a protracted legal battle against MSG for its HD feeds. A federal court ruled in favor of Verizon in November, upholding a FCC ruling, which forced MSG to negotiate with Verizon to provide HD feeds. MSG had argued that Verizon was not a broadcast company and therefore was not entitled to the HD signal to compete with cable TV providers.

FiOS introduced the HD service on MSG and MSG in HD on Dec. 16.

While the two developments aren't related, the dispute could drive some Time Warner customers into the arms of FiOS or DirecTV, the satellite service that also broadcasts Sabres games. However, the availability of FiOS is limited in the region. It is not available in the City of Buffalo.

Yu wouldn't confirm if there has been a recent spike in Western New York FiOS subscribers, stating the company doesn't release local numbers. A DirecTV spokesperson couldn't be reached to comment.

Negotiations between MSG and Time Warner have stalled, and the current agreement expires Sunday. MSG carries Sabres games. With no agreement, Time Warner customers won't see the Sabres play after Saturday's game against Ottawa.

"We have hundreds of employees who live here in Western New York," said Matthew Tremblay, a Time Warner spokesman. "We love our Sabres and we understand that sports costs are rising."

But Tremblay said MSG hasn't been cooperative, refusing to extend negotiations and backing out of an agreement two weeks ago.

MSG Media couldn't be reached to comment Friday, but the company has pointed the finger at Time Warner with a multimedia campaign, including full-page newspaper ads and websites urging sports fans to switch to other providers.

"We've given them multiple proposals, but at this time, they're not actively engaged in anything other than a public battle," Tremblay said. "The choice to black out MSG from Time Warner Cable customers is MSG's and MSG's alone."

Time Warner proposed a 6.5 percent increase through the end of the National Hockey League season, but according to the cable provider, MSG demanded a 53 percent increase in fees from the cable provider over last year's rates. But MSG has maintained its proposals are comparable to what other cable providers are paying. The contract dispute also affects MSG broadcasts on Time Warner in New York City of the Knicks, Rangers, N.J. Devils and Islanders.