DirecTV Still Balking at TWC over SportsNet LA

While FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is scheduled to meet with Rep. Tony Cárdenas  (D-Calif.) Tuesday afternoon, following the Congressman’s letter last week asking the agency to mediate the carriage impasse between SportsNet LA, the television home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a host of distributors. However, the prime players in the dispute don’t seem like they are ready to play ball anytime soon.

In the letter to Wheeler, Cárdenas along with six other House Democrats, Brad Sherman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Alan Lowenthal, Linda Sánchez Julia Brown, Janice Hanh and Judy Chu sent to the FCC, they asked the agency to mediate the dispute over $4-plus monthly subscriber fees that has kept the rookie RSN from gaining carriage on Cox, Charter, Suddenlink, Dish, DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse

Indeed, as the 2014 Major League Baseball season heads into its final two regular-season months, only subscribers to Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, which the nation’s No. 2 MSO negotiates programming deals for, have been able to see the first-place Dodgers on a regular basis within the team’s TV footprint.

In response to the letter, Time Warner Cable, which is paying the Dodgers some $8.35 billion over 25 years and is handling affiliate negotiations for the RSN, and the club said on July 28 that they would be amenable to entering into binding arbitration as a means to end the carriage impasse with DirecTV, which has a major presence in Los Angeles and throughout SportsNet LA’s footprint.

But the nation’s leading DBS provider issued the following statement this morning: “We agree with Congressman Sherman that any loyal Dodger fans deserve the opportunity to see games, yet not at the expense of the millions of other AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications, Verizon FiOS and other families who have little or no interest in paying for Time Warner Cable¹s excess. Rather than force everyone to bail Time Warner Cable out, the simplest solution is to enable only those who want to pay to see the remaining Dodgers games to do so at the price Time Warner Cable wants to set.”

For its part, Time Warner Cable said it is open to a legal assist: "We are willing to enter into binding arbitration with DirecTV, and we appreciate the Congressman’s concern for Dodger fans. We prefer to reach agreements through private business negotiations, but given the current circumstance, we are willing to agree to binding arbitration and to allow DirecTV customers to watch the Dodgers games while the arbitration is concluded."

Noted Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten: “First, we'd like to thank the members of the California delegation, especially Congressman Brad Sherman, for putting our fans and their constituents first and doing their best to move this situation forward. We're very pleased that our partners at Time Warner Cable have readily agreed to submit SportsNet LA to binding arbitration, and we urge DirecTV to quickly agree so that we can get these games on the air for their customers.”

Cardenas, at the Minority Media & Telecommunications Conference, said he was sorry Wheeler had only been able to appear via video, but said he had to leave to talk to the FCC chairman on the phone.

Cardenas said after he wrote the letter, Wheeler called him and asked to talk. He suggested the carriage fight was a "subset" of larger media consolidation battles, and that this would not be the last of what he hoped would be "respectful, cordial and overdue conversations"

The letter and meeting come as AT&T is trying to gain Washington approval of its deal to buy DirecTV, while Comcast is seeking approval to merge with Time Warner Cable.