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Dodger channel debuts Tuesday but much of region will be shut out

Television IndustryTelevisionEntertainmentTime Warner Cable Inc.Media IndustryComcast CorporationBright House Networks

Tuesday will be a landmark day for the Los Angeles Dodgers because their new cable network -- SportsNet LA -- will debut.

Unfortunately for Dodger fans, so far only Time Warner Cable -- which is partnering with the team on SportsNet LA -- is carrying the channel in this region. None of the other area pay-TV distributors, including DirecTV, Cox, Verizon, Dish and AT&T, are anywhere near a deal to carry the service.

The issue holding up distribution is price. Time Warner Cable agreed to an $8.35-billion, 25-year deal to run SportsNet LA, according to a valuation by the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. The annual fee that Time Warner Cable will pay to the Dodgers starts at $210 million this season and increases dramatically through the life of the contract.

To recoup that, Time Warner Cable has to get other distributors to sign expensive deals to carry SportsNet LA.

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Last year, CBS-owned KCAL and Fox Sports' Prime Ticket paid a total of about $50 million for rights to Dodger games. 

"Time Warner Cable has unilaterally decided to pay an unprecedented high price and now wants all of their own customers as well as those of their competitors, none of which who had any say in the matter, to pick up that tab," Dan York, DirecTV's chief content officer, told the Los Angeles Times last week.

That sentiment has been echoed by other distributors, who contend that a new network devoted solely to the Dodgers is unnecessary in a town that already has several sports channels.

"It is really hard to understand why everyone needs their own channel when they didn't need one before," said Andy Albert, senior vice president of content acquisition for Cox Communications.

Albert, York and other executives would like the option of offering the Dodgers on a special tier so non-sports fans don't have to pick up the tab. Time Warner Cable says that is not something it is  prepared to offer.

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The Dodgers and Time Warner Cable have declined to say how much is being charged to carry SportsNet LA. Time Warner Cable Sports chief David Rone did say the initial cost of the channel is less than $5 a month per subscriber. A distribution executive, who declined to speak for attribution because of the confidentiality of negotiations, confirmed that in the first year the price tag is less than $5, but added that the fees quickly escalate in the following years.

With the start of the Dodgers regular season still a month away, there is plenty of time for Time Warner Cable to strike deals. But many distributors seem prepared to go without the boys in blue, at least under the terms currently offered.

Time Warner Cable did reach an agreement with Bright House Networks, which has subscribers in Bakersfield. However, Time Warner Cable is a partner of Bright House, so the accord comes as no surprise.

For Time Warner Cable subscribers, the Dodger channel will be available on channels 249 (standard definition) and 431 (high definition).

ALSO:

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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