News Corp. and Time Warner Cable fight on many fields

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It seems every week Time Warner Cable and News Corp. are locked in some sort of fight.

The latest go-around between the two media giants has to do with the Dodgers. News Corp.'s Fox is in hot water with Major League Baseball for lending struggling Dodgers owner Frank McCourt money to meet the team’s payroll. On Wednesday, Major League Baseball said it was taking control of the franchise away from McCourt.


Fox’s motivation was not just to help McCourt, but also to keep Time Warner Cable from getting too cozy with the owner. Fox has been buddy-buddy with McCourt since selling him the Dodgers several years ago and is worried that Time Warner Cable will try to snag the TV rights to the team when the current deal expires in 2014.

Even though McCourt has few friends among Dodger fans or in Major League Baseball’s front office, Fox wants to keep the team on its Prime Ticket network. It already lost the Lakers, which are on News Corp.'s Fox Sports West network to Time Warner Cable and is worried that the Dodgers are next on the cable company’s wish list.

Indeed, Time Warner Cable had already approached McCourt about becoming partners and had even made inquiries about a potential naming-rights deal with the team, according to a person close to the situation. A Time Warner Cable spokesman declined to comment when asked if the company had approached the team about either a new TV contract or any sort of marketing deal.

On the surface, it appears that Fox didn’t really have that much to worry about -- at least in the near term -- regarding Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers. When the company sold the team to McCourt and his wife, Jamie, the agreement included a clause that would allow Fox to match any competing offer McCourt gets for the TV rights to the Dodgers, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Even with that protective clause, though, Fox does not want Time Warner Cable to get anywhere near the Dodgers. Regional sports networks are cash cows -- but not without big teams. Fox Sports West currently gets $2.37 per subscriber, per month from cable operators. When the network loses the Lakers in the 2012-13 season, there will be pressure to bring that price down.

The battle for TV sports supremacy in Los Angeles is the latest dust-up between News Corp. and Time Warner Cable.

Just a few weeks ago, Fox made a stink when Time Warner Cable put Fox News and FX on its iPad application, which allows Time Warner Cable subscribers to watch live television on the Apple tablet. That fight was recently resolved with Fox agreeing to let Time Warner Cable offer the channels.

Before that, the two had an ugly spat over a new contract for News Corp.'s Fox TV stations to be carried on Time Warner Cable’s systems around the country.

Most of these fights ultimately are about protecting turf. Time Warner Cable wants to remain relevant in a world where people are eager to find ways to cut the cord. News Corp. either wants more money for its content or wants to keep content away from rivals such as Time Warner Cable. The end result for consumers, unfortunately, is usually higher bills.

-- Joe Flint