Bloomberg Keeps His Billions Separate From His Mayoral Obligations? Yeah, Right!

No mayor may be able to top Rudy Giuliani's public worship of New York's Bronx baseball team, but with the Yankees seemingly headed to the playoffs again, the current incumbent will no doubt at least make an effort.

As a result, the image of Mike Bloomberg hamming it up in a first base box will be beamed into city homes this October, right before election day. And for many viewers, that image will be carried on their local cable-network provider.

For most of New York, that provider is Time Warner.

Mike’s kind of guy: Steve Rattner
Newscom
Mike’s kind of guy: Steve Rattner

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special reporting by Jane C. Timm
research assistance by Johanna Barr, Dene-Hern Chen, Aaron Howell, Lucy Jordan, Jesus Ron, and Grace Smith

Funny thing about the Yankees on your Time Warner cable box. A few years ago, the Yanks were in a murderers' row with several other sports channels. Mets games are broadcast on SNY at 26. MSG, the Madison Square Garden Channel, owns 27. Sports heavyweights ESPN and ESPN2 have 28 and 29.

And batting cleanup (more or less), at channel 30, was the YES network that broadcasts the Bronx Bombers.

In cable, it's common to group channels by genre. The thinking goes that each of them benefits from proximity to the others.

But the Yankees, easily the most popular pro sports team in town, recently got pulled out of that lineup like a light-hitting shortstop struggling below the Mendoza line.

In March 2008, the Yankees were suddenly banished from the sports oasis on your cable dial, pushed all the way up to channel 53.

That puts them just after the Learning Channel and just before AMC, a very mysterious exile from cable's sports landscape.

Until, that is, you consider what took its place.

March 2008, when the switch was made, was also just six short months from a major date concerning your local cable provider: It would mark the end of Time Warner's 10-year contract with the city of New York.

It's almost a year now since that date came and went. The city, however, is still slowly negotiating a new contract, probably the most lucrative in the country. For many reasons, the delays have already worked to Time Warner's advantage.

You can be sure that Time Warner believes that its decision to bump the Yankees and move a minor news network all the way from channel 104 to a prime spot on the dial carries some weight with the city and the man who runs it.

And that's because Mike Bloomberg, besides running New York, also owns a company called Bloomberg LP, which happens to run a little business-news network called Bloomberg TV.

Which you can now find on your cable system at channel 30.

Because Bloomberg is not only the mayor but also the richest man in New York, he agreed to several conditions when he took office in 2002. In order to make sure that his decisions about the welfare of all New Yorkers would not be complicated by his personal business welfare, he was required by the city ethics board to sell his publicly traded stocks and his interest in a hedge fund. Much was made in the media of how well the billionaire, and the city he ran for a salary of a dollar a year, had been sealed off from his (potentially corrupting) billions.

After nearly two full terms, however, the walls between the mayor's money and his public office that once looked so strict have appeared more and more porous. In some cases, like with Time Warner, that may not have been Bloomberg's doing. And in others, it may not have even been what was on his mind. But as he nears a third term, there's little doubt that Bloomberg's business interests have become increasingly intertwined with his government, a conflicted marriage unprecedented in the life of the city and unchecked by an independent overseer.

One of the rules Bloomberg agreed to was that he would keep his hands off "all matters involving cable television."

While Bloomberg has backed wholesale deregulation and higher rates for cable, saying that carriers "don't make a lot of money," there is, in fact, no evidence that Bloomberg has ever personally intervened in the decisions about the three national companies that have contracts with the city. But it's clear that his network did benefit, mightily, from Time Warner's channel change.

It's also true that television is increasingly important to Bloomberg LP's long-term business plan. Until Bloomberg's most trusted aide, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, announced his departure from city employment, he had overseen the city's cable franchises (his designated successor, Ron Lieber, does that now). Doctoroff left the city to become president of Bloomberg LP, where he has made the revamping of the television operation a top priority, bringing in NBC's Andrew Lack and adding Charlie Rose.

Two months after Doctoroff was installed as Bloomberg LP's president in January 2008, the Time Warner channel switch happened.

There's no way to tell if Bloomberg TV's move from channel 104 to channel 30 on New York's dial has improved the network's ratings, since Nielsen doesn't release them. But cable experts say that the move was certainly designed to enhance the network's advertising potential in Manhattan, where the people who make ad-buying decisions are much more likely to notice the station now than when it was in triple digits. Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, Bloomberg TV remains in the cable hinterlands: It's still at 224 in Los Angeles, 252 in San Diego, 246 in Boston, and, like it once was in New York, 104 in New Jersey. (Cablevision, which has the city contract in the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn, has Bloomberg TV at 105.)

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