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Time Warner Cable Signs First Affiliate for SportsNet LA on Eve of Launch

Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium - H 2013
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Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium

The deal is with Bright House Network, which TWC programs, as DirecTV and others have yet to make a pact to carry the pricey new basic cable channel.

SportsNet LA, the new basic cable network that will carry Los Angeles Dodger games and which launches Tuesday, finally has carriage on a cable system besides Time Warner Cable. But that affiliation isn’t a surprise or a sign that other operators -- who have balked at the high asking price -- will soon get into the game.

Time Warner Cable announced Monday that SportsNet LA will be carried by Bright House Networks on its system in Bakersfield. TWC has an agreement with Bright House owner Advance/Newhouse, under which it does its programming and content deals and sets the channel line. The carrier won't say how much it is asking, but reports have it seeking north of $4 per subscriber.

SportsNet LA was created last year by the Los Angeles Dodgers. (The team is owned by Guggenheim Partners, as is The Hollywood Reporter.)  After heated bidding, TWC agreed to pay $8.5 billion over 25 years to carry the new channel and signed on to handle distribution and affiliate relations.

A spokesperson told THR on Monday that TWC is in negotiations with other cable system and satellite distributors about carriage but had other deals to announce.

DirecTV has already gone public in its concern about the anticipated high cost of the Dodger channel. This comes only a year after the launch of Cable SportsNet -- which carries Los Angeles Laker basketball games and others. 

A top executive of DirecTV last week said that with the high price TWC is seeking, the only reasonable thing is to put it on a separate tier where those who choose to can pay for it. TWC and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who own the channel, are believed to be insisting that the new service be on a basic tier so that they can not only make money from the sub fees, but also sell advertising.

TWC also has yet to make deals with Dish, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse, Cox or even Comcast, the company that recently agreed to acquire TWC for $45 billion. TWC has launched a website, INeedMyDodgers.com, to try and pressure the cable and satellite operators to carry the popular games.

How quickly the public will embrace the new service is unclear. While the Dodgers are very popular in Southern California, this will be the first year that at least some games will not be on free over-the-air television. That already has some fans grumbling.

Last June, a class action suit was filed on behalf of TWC subscribers who do not want to be forced to pay for the Laker or Dodger channels without their consent. That suit was dismissed by a state court judge on the grounds that rate regulation is a federal matter.

Maxwell Blecher, an attorney who filed the class action suit, said they have filed an appeal in state court. He contends it is really about consumers being forced to pay for something they don’t want.

Sports Net LA this week will start broadcasting the first of 19 exhibition games leading up to two games the Dodgers play against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia on March 20 and March 23.

The Dodgers then return home for three more preseason games against the cross-town rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, followed by the season opener against the San Diego Padres on March 30, which will be carried on ESPN as part of its deal with Major League Baseball.

Most experts, pointing to the pattern set last year with the Lakers channel, expect the real deadline to do deals is that March 30 season-opening game. On Monday, TWC also revealed for the first time the channel position for SportsNet LA on its systems. In the Los Angeles area, it is going to be on channel 249 for standard service and channel 431 for high-definition subscribers.