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A Drop in the Bucket?

11:25 AM -- We may never know the exact numbers, but Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) probably lost no more than 8,000 customers during a 16-day blackout of Fox programming brought on by a nasty retransmission battle that forced the MSO's subs to look elsewhere to watch two World Series games. (See Cablevision to Pay for World Series Streams.)

That estimate comes courtesy of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett, who, in a research note issued today, said he believes that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Cablevision's chief wireline TV competitor, is probably able to throw only so many resources toward the demand caused by the impasse.

He says Verizion FiOS had enough folks on the ground in the Cablevision footprint to do little more than 1,000 installs per day before the Fox battle came into play.

"Given the constraints on trained installers, we believe it is unlikely that they would have the capacity to scale up to much more than 150% of that, especially over a short timeframe," Moffett wrote. "If so CVC's incremental loss to FiOS isn't likely to be much more than about 500 subs per day. Over a sixteen day period, you're still in the range of 8K subscribers or so. In other words, barely big enough to notice."

Still, He thinks Verizon and other video competitors, such as DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), will likely add some additional Cablevision subs as they work through a backlog, so the final sub loss for the MSO may be higher.

Even if the total number is hardly enough to put a dent in Cablevision's sub base, the battle, which came to an end on Saturday, did get lots of attention, and may have a regulatory effect on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s pending acquisition of NBC Universal .

"In light of the Cablevision-Fox dispute, there is clearly more attention being paid to program access, making restrictions more likely," suggested Barclays Capital analyst James Ratcliffe.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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