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Losing YES channel has Yank fans crying, 'Oh, no!'

By Lee Howard and Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published April 03. 2014 4:00AM   Updated April 03. 2014 11:33PM

For 61-year-old physician Vijay Sikand of East Lyme, who has been following the Yankees since the days of Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, Tuesday was going to be highlighted by a relaxing night watching his favorite team on television.

But when he clicked onto the YES sports channel through his MetroCast cable service, all he saw was a blank screen and a line of type streaming across the top indicating that the channel had gone dark. The message on the television guide portion of the screen indicated that MetroCast and the YES Network, owned by Fox Television, could not reach an agreement on programming terms and that YES had therefore stopped sending its signal to the cable provider.

"There hasn't been a single warning of any kind to any customer that I'm aware of," Sikand said Wednesday. "As an avid Yankee fan, I was shocked, surprised and disappointed."

MetroCast, whose coverage area also includes Montville, New London, Waterford, Jewett City and Griswold, acknowledged that its contract with the YES Network expired at midnight Monday. The company, which said it could not reveal the percentage increase sought by YES, added that "the cost of the network was a major factor in the matter."

MetroCast spokesman Andrew Walton said there are no active discussions with YES to resume offering the channel to subscribers. He added that Service Electric Cable TV Inc., a family-owned cable service covering parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, also was unable to come to terms with the YES Network.

Pennsylvania-based MetroCast, which is part of the National Cable Television Consortium, reached an agreement with another key programming provider, Viacom, at the 11th hour, but Walton said the company was unable to come to terms with YES.

"Sports channels account for a very large percentage of the fees paid by cable and satellite companies - by some estimates up to half of the total programming cost," Walton said in an email.

He added in a phone interview that the fees are expected to increase substantially in the years ahead, thanks largely to pricey contracts between networks and professional and collegiate sports leagues.

An article last year in The Wall Street Journal indicated that sports channels as a whole account for 20 percent of the cost of a typical cable or satellite bill. That's nearly $15 a month on a TV bill that last year averaged about $73.44 per household, according to The Journal.

The draw of sports programming is the fact that 97 percent of viewers watch the shows in real time, so advertisements are more likely to be seen. By contrast, other programming is seen in real time - rather than later on DVD recorders - by only three-quarters of households.

Yet the audience for sports is small, said Walton, and MetroCast must weigh whether satisfying 4 percent of viewers is worth the cost that would have to be borne largely by those not interested in watching. He added that the company began notifying customers last week through its website and through social media when it seemed likely that an agreement with YES would not be reached. More information was extended to customers through the same methods and with the help of MetroCast's customer service team after the network went dark.

Yankee fan Sikand was not mollified by explanations. "When I went to work today, I encountered many Yankees fans who were equally upset," he said.

They might have been upset as well that the Yankees wound up losing the game, 6-2, to the Houston Astros as pitcher CC Sabathia had a rough outing. Sikand found nothing amusing about the fact that MetroCast still offers NESN, a sports network that broadcasts Red Sox games.

"Dropping YES hits a raw nerve," he said.

l.howard@theday.com

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