Time Warner Cable Sportsnet LA has been on the air for more than a month. Starting Tuesday, the first of many Dodger games will be available on that channel, but many fans who will want to tune in won't be able to. Why? Here are some answers to your questions about the deal.
Q. So what is the problem: Why doesn't Time Warner have deals in place?
It depends on whom you ask. If you talk to the distributors, such as DirecTV, they will tell you that Time Warner is asking for far too much money – between $4 and $5 a month per household. If you ask Time Warner, they'll say that they’re charging a fair price, similar to what other regional sports networks charge, including one that DirecTV itself owns in Seattle. Stuck in the middle are the two-thirds or so of Los Angeles residents who don't subscribe to Time Warner.
Q. How did we get to this point?
For the first time, the Dodgers have taken their games off free, over-the-air TV this season. They used to have about one game a week on KCAL. But this season, they went the route of other marquee sports franchises – like the Yankees and the Lakers– and created their own regional sports network.
If you wonder how the Dodgers are able to sign Clayton Kershaw to a $215 million deal and assemble the richest roster in baseball, wonder no more: The Time Warner deal is worth more than $8 billion dollars over 25 years. And the Dodgers are guaranteed most of the money from Time Warner, whether the subscriber deals are in place or not. But now Time Warner needs to recoup its massive investment.
Q. Which side will blink first?
The Dodgers certainly feel that the advantage is now on their side — now that the season has started and people are going to be missing games. The domestic season opener on Sunday night was on ESPN. Tuesday afternoon’s game in San Diego is the first game since two games played in Australia that is available only on Sportsnet.
It does seem like we are getting to the point where distributors – and perhaps also consumers who don’t watch sports — are getting fed up. This is what SNL Kagan senior analyst Derek Baine recently told The Hollywood Reporter:
"I think a lot of the multichannel operators have just had it. They've seen their margins being eroded for many years. "You're going to see a lot of changes in channel lineups, and going forward the whole sports cost issue puts pressure on everybody."
L.A. now has seven regional sports networks – each making your cable bill more expensive, whether you have any interest in sports or not. There have been examples where distributors have held out: DirecTV still doesn’t carry the Pac-12 networks, and no one seems to mind missing a couple USC and UCLA games a year. On the other hand, when Time Warner tried to hold the line against CBS last year for five weeks, Time Warner lost a lot of subscribers and gained almost nothing in the ensuing negotiations.
Q. Who will fans blame when they can’t watch their Dodgers?
People love to hate cable companies, but they also hate paying higher cable prices. The new Dodgers owners have built up a lot of support from fans after investing heavily in the team and the ballpark and doing things like lowering parking (which is now being raised if you don’t buy online). Now we will see if the honeymoon is over with the new owners and fans. LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke firmly believes the honeymoon is already over. He's been writing and tweeting about how the dispute is an insult to fans.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>If Dodger owners didn't have money w/o fan-unfriendly TV deal, they shouldn't have spent it.. that's something McCourt would havve done.</p>— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) <a href="https://twitter.com/BillPlaschke/statuses/450456103206125568">March 31, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>When new owners promised to spend big bucks, they never said it would be at expense of watching team on TV..fans wudn't make that trade</p>— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) <a href="https://twitter.com/BillPlaschke/statuses/450455671939428353">March 31, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Even if cable dispute only lasts a few days..a few days w/o Scully is an insult to Dodger fans who deserve better</p>— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) <a href="https://twitter.com/BillPlaschke/statuses/450454819350646784">March 31, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Q. Couldn't providers just carry the Dodgers channel on an a la carte basis?
This is something providers have said they’d like to do but the Dodgers and Time Warner have adamantly opposed it. It doesn’t fit with their business model because it's much more lucrative to have millions of people paying for the channel than tens of thousands and the Dodgers say it’s simply not how cable TV works. However, many consumer advocates would like to change that and unbundle the cable TV system.
Q. Who does Time Warner have deals with?
It's a short list. Champion Broadband, which serves customers in Monrovia and Arcadia, started carrying Sportsnet on March 21. Bright House Networks picked up Sportsnet in February.