Bobcats Move Could Boost Time Warner Cable’s Arbitration Case

The move of Carolina Bobcats National Basketball Association games off Time Warner Cable's News 14 Carolina channel in a complicated broadcast-rights/arena-naming deal among the cable operator, FSN South and the team could provide Time Warner with some ammunition in its ongoing carriage dispute with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

Not only does Time Warner get naming rights to the Bobcats arena, but it gets to say that it can strike deals for sports with outside suppliers -- the games are moving to FSN South -- and to distance itself from the argument that it was favoring its own channel.

In February, an arbitrator who had found against Time Warner in the dispute was removed after the operator challenged both him and the ruling. Time Warner was hopeful for a different result, saying at the time that it would ultimately prevail.

One of the reasons why the arbitrator found against Time Warner was that it offered MASN carriage on a digital tier, while offering other regional sports networks on the analog tier.

Back when Time Warner and Comcast divvied up the systems of bankrupt Adelphia Communications, the Federal Communications Commission required the companies to submit to commercial arbitration if they could not resolve carriage disputes with RSNs.

Among the RSNs Time Warner was said to be favoring was its own News 14 Carolina. While the arbitrator dismissed Time Warner's contention that MASN was not an RSN, he concluded that Time Warner's News 14 Carolina news channel was an RSN since it provided Charlotte Bobcats NBA games, was carried on Time Warner's analog tier and was said to be looking to pick up more sports rights, which it might be able to do if MASN "were squeezed out" by a lack of carriage.

The move will boost the Bobcats’ carriage to include other cable operators and satellite providers, which had not been the case with News 14 Carolina, which was confined to Time Warner.

The announcement comes amid discussions of how to proceed with the dispute resolution under a new arbitrator, but a Time Warner spokesperson Maureen Huff said that the deal has been in the works for over a year. She said News 14 was never intended to be the permanent home of the Bobcats games. 

She also said that the news channel is not seeking any other sports rights beyond an occasinal high school championship game.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.