COMPANY TOWN

Dodgers channel price cut gets tepid response

Is Vin Scully — and a big discount from Time Warner Cable — enough to stop the Dodgers television blackout from entering a third straight season?

Don't bet on it.

As The Times reported Tuesday, Time Warner Cable is cutting its asking price for SportsNet LA — which telecasts Dodger games — by 30% in an effort to persuade cable and satellite providers to pick up the channel.

The Dodgers and others also put pressure on the holdouts, pointing out that Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully, 88, will be calling his final season from Chavez Ravine.

"If nothing else, let's do it for Vin Scully," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

Pay-TV providers don't seem to be buying it. DirecTV/AT&T and Verizon declined to comment. Cox Communications said Tuesday it hopes to reach an agreement with Time Warner that does not "burden our customers with excessive price increases."

Analysts say the holdouts are unlikely to take the discounted offer, for several reasons.

Carrying the Dodgers channel would still cost the providers about $3.50 a month per household, an expense they would have to absorb or pass on to customers. In an era of cord-cutting, any rate increase could be incentive for customers to cancel their pay-TV service.

Also, Time Warner Cable's two-year campaign for fans to demand their Dodgers has not been effective in swaying DirecTV.

Initially offered at about $4.90 per month, SportsNet LA was the second-most-expensive local sports channel in the country, according consulting firm SNL Kagan.

The current asking price of about $3.50 per month is similar to the cost of ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, a DirecTV-owned channel that carries the Pittsburgh Pirates and NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, SNL Kagan said.

And the Time Warner Cable discount rate is good for only one year. The company is expected to be acquired by Charter Communications, pending regulatory approvals.

"Why would anyone give everyone a taste of something for a year?" said Mark Ramsey, a media consultant based in San Diego. "All the leverage goes to the seller, not the buyer. It's a temporary fix. This is not a free sample for Sirius XM."

Doing a deal based on a temporary discount would be potentially hazardous for a company like DirecTV, which would have to go back to the negotiating table in a matter of months.

That would raise the possibility of the carrier having to drop the network if the parties hit another impasse.

"Your subscribers risk losing it," Ramsey said. "Dropping a channel is worse than not carrying a channel."

On the other side, there is the Vin factor.

The Dodgers went on the offensive Wednesday, encouraging players to support the Time Warner Cable proposal on their Twitter accounts. "Let LA watch!!" tweeted center fielder Joc Pederson.

The Dodgers also got Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to issue a statement saying the blackout had "gone on too long."

"The Dodgers' massive fan base deserves to be able to watch Dodger games regardless of their choice of provider," Manfred said. "The situation is particularly acute given that this is Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully's final season. Time Warner has made a significant economic move that I hope will be accepted by the providers."

Dodgers President Stan Kasten also saluted the Time Warner Cable offer. More than half of households in the Los Angeles region don't have access to Dodgers telecasts.

"We think it's a wonderful gesture from Time Warner Cable, particularly out of respect for Vin Scully," Kasten said. "It's a big win for the fans and, frankly, a big win for the cable and satellite providers. There could be no better way to honor Vin in his final year than for them to quickly accept this offer and get the games on TV."

As for Scully, the announcer said Wednesday he was not entirely comfortable "to have my name tossed into a negotiation."

"It's really kind of embarrassing for me," said Scully, who is entering his 67th season as voice of the Dodgers. "If it will serve in any possible way to get the fans to see more games, that is the thing I would be rooting for."

Time Warner Cable spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi said his company was offering the discount with the hope of broadening negotiations with DirecTV and other providers into a long-term deal, and was doing this now "especially because of the historic nature of this year with it being Vin Scully's final season."

David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC's Marshall School of Business, said the Time Warner Cable offer could play well with fans that do not get SportsNet LA.

"There's certainly some PR value that comes with providing that olive branch," Carter said. "The fans may say, 'At the very least, it sounds more reasonable than the previous number.'

"This whole notion that it could be a one-year deal could really buy both parties time. The fans might say, 'That kind of sounds reasonable, let's put a pin in it for this year, and come back to it when Vin Scully's no longer in the mix.'"

In an interview, Garcetti said he had become "very involved" in the dispute and had spoken with the chief executives of all the cable and satellite companies in the matter.

"I've been telling them, 'We deserve this, Time Warner, you've got to come up with a more realistic rate,' and telling the other guys, 'We can't afford to not have them,'" Garcetti said.

If the Dodgers are not on the air citywide by the time Charter takes over Time Warner Cable — a deal expected to close in late spring — Garcetti said, he will summon executives from Charter and DirecTV and lean on them to do a deal.

In the meantime, the Dodgers open their season in less than two weeks, and no deal is imminent, according to people familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to comment.

Ramsey said the Time Warner Cable offer is most likely a publicity ploy to stoke consumer sentiment.

"The way to do a deal is to negotiate an equitable price behind closed doors, not to do it by a news announcement," Ramsey said.

However, Carter said he was not surprised that issue is taking center stage now.

"If there's ever a time for a short-term solution," Carter said, "it would be a week or 10 days before Vin Scully's last year."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

Times staff writers Dylan Hernandez and Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 24, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Dodgers channel price cut may not fly with cable firms - Temporary discount would force them to renegotiate terms." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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