Comcast’s failed attempt to buy Time Warner Cable represents yet another blow for Dodgers fans in Los Angeles.
Time Warner Cable remains the only major pay-TV company in Southern California carrying SportsNet LA, also known as the Dodgers channel. About 30% of homes in greater Los Angeles subscribe to Time Warner Cable.
The hangups to wider distribution have been the price that Time Warner Cable wants to charge rival TV providers to carry the channel -- the standoff has continued into its second season -- and the pending change in ownership for TWC.
Now that Comcast’s $45-billion acquisition is off the table, there’s even more uncertainty for the future of the channel.
“There’s no end in sight,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute. “When you get into August, you get into the dog days of summer in sports, and now it's looking like it’s going to be the dog days of summer for media deals.”
So, now what? Here are five questions we have.
Will Time Warner Cable go back to the negotiating table with DirecTV and other providers?
In recent months, Time Warner Cable has tried to reopen negotiations but hasn’t found any takers. One possible reason is that DirecTV is in the midst of its own acquisition by AT&T and hasn’t been inclined to do a deal.
TWC’s leverage appears to be limited. DirecTV has about 1.2 million subscribers in the Los Angeles region, and the satellite company lost only about 2,000 homes last year when it didn’t offer the Dodgers channel. Time Warner Cable, for its part, would likely have to lower the price it wants to charge its rivals. TWC Chief Executive Robert D. Marcus on Friday declined to say if that was something the company was prepared to do.
What if another cable giant tries to buy Time Warner Cable?
Now that Comcast has pulled its bid, Charter Communications could be waiting in the wings to pursue Time Warner Cable. All signs suggest that TWC would be open to a deal with Charter, but that would mean another round of intense regulatory scrutiny -- the same kind that hobbled TWC’s deal-making abilities.
Is this hurting Time Warner Cable financially?
Yes. Under the terms of its 25-year, $8.35-billion contract with the Dodgers, Time Warner Cable has been paying the team $200 million a year in fees and absorbing more than $100 million a year in losses. TWC originally asked cable and satellite rivals to pay as much as $4.90 a month per subscriber for SportsNet LA, but all potential takers balked.
Are there any other ways for the Dodgers to get on TV beyond TWC?
Fans have been trying to find different ways to get Dodgers games on TV, but options are spare.
Last year, Time Warner Cable managed to find a late-season workaround and made a deal to run the final few games of the season on local TV station KDOC, Channel 65. It ended up as a ratings boon for the channel best known for reruns of “Seinfeld” and “Rules of Engagement.” There’s always a possibility for a similar deal this season, but that would be a superficial fix.
“That's just a tourniquet,” Carter said. “It's not addressing the fundamental problem. It might be one way to assuage some of the fans but it still doesn't get to the heart of the long-term financial problem.”
So what could get negotiations going?
Sustained fan outrage may be a factor as the Dodgers-less weeks turn into months. “It's going to be a function of how much ill will comes from Dodger fans or politicians to guilt them into getting back to the bargaining table,” Carter said.
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