Few Carriers But TWC Choose SportsNet LA

SportsNet LA, the new regional sports network home to the Los Angeles Dodgers that is managed by Time Warner Cable, will step up to the plate Tuesday (Feb. 25) with live programming from TWC Studios in El Segundo, Calif.

The startup will feature conversations with Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer and Dodgers owner Magic Johnson, former manager Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten, plus a throw to spring training in Glendale, Ariz.

The crowds may come for the Dodgers, but how many viewers, if any, beyond TWC subscribers, will get to see the opening day was anybody’s guess at press time on Friday.

Presumably, Bakersfield subscribers to Bright House Networks, for which TWC negotiates programming deals, will have access. A survey of other major providers in greater Los Angeles, though, yielded concerns about the network’s reported monthly subscriber price of $5.

Previously, Dodgers games aired on KCAL-TV and Fox’s Prime Ticket. But under a 25-year deal that some value at as much as $9 billion, the Dodgers own the channel and TWC Sports managees and operates it, including distribution. Moreover, TWC will cover affiliate fees for other players in the market, even if they don’t carry the service, as part of rights fees said to be between $225 million and $250 million in the first season.

TWC Sports president David Rone, in an interview, would not specify the asking price for the service, other than to say it’s “less than $5.”

Kasten said he understands “the process” in affiliate negotiations, but believes the team’s popularity and the network’s “very appealing programming” will ultimately bear fruit.

Rone, too, expressed optimism that deals will be struck, noting that the early consumer reach to providers via INeedMyDodgers.com is “trending ahead” of when the MSO employed a similar tactic prior to the launch of its Lakers-centric networks.

“We hope it is possible to come to an agreement with TWC SportsNet LA that does not burden our customers with excessive price increases,” said Andy Albert, senior vice president of content acquisition for Cox Communications.

Dan York, chief content officer of DirecTV, the second-largest distributor in the RSN’s footprint, also balked last week. “Time Warner Cable has chosen an above-market deal and now expects all of its customers and all of the customers of its competitors to foot the bill,” he said.

Despite such protestations — or negotiating dialogue — Kasten uttered an “emphatic “yes” when asked if he expects SportsNet L.A. to secure significant carriage.