Time Warner Cable has long been a reluctant
player in the sports arena. The MSO was the
lone major holdout on the NFL Network, and
it traditionally would not spend big on sports
rights. But when executive VP and chief video
and content officer Melinda Witmer decided the
company needed to step up to the plate, she did
so in a way nobody could miss.
Last year, Witmer committed ten figures to
sew up local rights to the Los Angeles Lakers for
the next two decades, creating not one but two
regional sports networks in the market—including
a ground-breaking Spanish-language RSN—
to showcase the popular NBA franchise. Time
Warner followed that up with multi-year deals
for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy
and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. Time Warner
is building new facilities for the networks.
“Live sports is a main driver, especially with all
the time-shifting in television viewing,” Witmer
says. “This is a chance to work with a powerful
brand and help fans connect with the product.”
The MSO had been looking for a way to better
serve the Hispanic community: “The Lakers
are enormously popular with Latinos, so this is
an opportunity to do something really special.”
To handle all these operations, Witmer formed
a new division, Time Warner Cable Sports, and
hired veteran executive David Rone to oversee it.
(The company also got in on a deal with other
operators to create a series of networks for the
Pac-12 college sports conference.)
“I won’t handle the day-to-day, I let my staff do
their thing,” Witmer says. “But I am de! nitely not
hands-off. I was the architect of this vision—of
what the Lakers wanted and what Time Warner
wanted—and now I will be its steward.”
While she’s already looking into other sports
opportunities, Witmer says she has made sure
that each new hire in Los Angeles understands
the big-picture goals. She gets regular updates
and “definitely weighs in” on the details.
And Witmer knows first-hand what Lakers
fans want. “I grew up in a crazed Laker household—
during the Bird-Magic era, I even went to
the Boston Garden dressed head-to-toe in Lakers
gear,” she recalls, adding this probably helped
her seal the deal with Lakers ownership: “It’s a
family-owned business, so forging relationships
are even more important, and I could personally
connect with the heritage of the team.”
Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.
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