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The Los Angeles Dodgers lost their home opener Friday to the San Francisco Giants, but only fans in attendance — and about 30 percent of potential TV homes that subscribe to Time Warner Cable — were able to watch the game.
No end appears to be in sight to the lack of carriage on other systems.
A day after Time Warner Cable and DirecTV traded conflicting claims concerning the stalled negotiations for carriage of SportsNet LA, the new Los Angeles Dodgers cable TV channel, the only thing both sides could agree on was that there are no current talks and none are scheduled.
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer charged that Time Warner Cable is trying to force people throughout Southern California “to pay for their own $8.35 billion excesses.” That is a reference to the amount that the Dodgers will be paid over 25 years for broadcast rights to the new channel that they own.
According to Mercer, TWC must make those payments whether other area distributors sign on for carriage or not.
“It’s regrettable but it’s pretty easy to see why Time Warner [Cable] will try anything and more importantly will say anything to ensure everyone pays for their mistakes before they do,” says Mercer.
TWC says it isn’t just about money for DirecTV. “They want the ability to drop the Dodgers anytime the team isn’t playing well,” says TWC spokeswoman Maureen Huff. “Under the ‘fair weather fan’ standards they want to impose on the Dodgers, the Mariners, Pirates and Rockies should have been dropped by DirecTV and other providers years ago, but DirecTV wants a double standard — one for the RSNs they own and another for SNLA.”
On Thursday, a TWC executive was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying negotiations with DirecTV have not only stalled, but are over, and “DirecTV has ended serious negotiations” and “will not carry the Dodgers this year.”
As the Times reported, DirecTV said in no uncertain terms that the claim was not true and that the company is prepared to negotiate again — but not on the terms offered by TWC.
Mercer denied that the blackout of DirecTV customers in the Dodgers broadcast footprint, about 30 percent of all pay TV homes in the market, has resulted in a loss of subscribers — as was implied by a TWC executive in the Times.
“We’ve continued to receive an incredible amount of support from customers,” says Mercer. “They understand what we are trying to do and are sticking with us.”
The stand DirecTV says it is taking is against a reported demand for $4 a month per subscriber from everyone in Dodger territory. Mercer says there are now five regional sports networks in Southern California and SportsNet LA is the most expensive not only in the market, but nationwide. And, he notes, “it is a single team regional sports network.”
TWC says SportsNet LA is not the most expensive RSN.
“SportsNet LA is available on fair terms consistent with its value,” says Huff. “DirecTV isn’t just refusing to negotiate on money. They have proposed carrying SportsNet LA a la carte, but they do not offer their channels a la carte to consumers.”
DirecTV says this is all about pressure tactics to make a deal. “It’s a desperate attempt to try and lure away our customers,” says Mercer, “thereby putting pressure on us. And by the way, it isn’t working.”
Huff says talks with other area providers, such as Charter, Cox and Dish Network, continue. “We’re in active discussions with the other distributors,” says Huff, “and we remain ready and willing to resume negotiations with DirecTV.”
“We are eager for all consumers in the Dodgers footprint to have access to SNLA, and we hope that other providers will come on board quickly so that the frustrated DirecTV consumers have alternative options throughout the region,” says Huff. “We will continue to work tirelessly to make that happen. And, in the event that DirecTV would like to re-engage discussions, we stand at the ready to do so 24/7.”
DirecTV says it is also ready to resume talks if TWC offers new proposals that they consider more reasonable. Until then, about 70 percent of fans in the Dodgers’ region will have to attend games or listen on the radio.
Guggenheim Partners, the majority owner of the L.A. Dodgers, is also the owner of The Hollywood Reporter.
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