Time Warner Cable, which paid more than top dollar to secure Dodgers telecasts well into the future and then managed to prevent millions of Dodger fans from seeing the games on TV during this (possibly) pennant-winning season, is backing down.
As my colleague Meg James reports, TWC will broadcast the potentially pivotal final six Dodger games of the season on free TV, via KDOC, starting Sept. 22. This is the least TWC can do -- and we do mean the least.
But as though in true bad-PR fashion, here's how they described their action (the speaker is Dinni Jain, Time Warner Cable’s chief operating officer):
"Time Warner Cable is part of this community and we’re Dodger fans too. Angelenos love their Dodgers, and we’re happy to give them a way to watch their beloved team during this pennant chase."
If a more hypocritical statement has been uttered during this season-long fiasco, I'd be interested in knowing what it is.
True Dodger fans -- and all customers of Time Warner Cable -- should see this free-TV arrangement for what it is, a last-ditch attempt to shed some of the stink of a telecast deal that deprived a huge portion of real Dodger fans of access to televised games because the cable operator and the team's owners got indescribably greedy. Now they say they're doing Dodger fans a big favor?
Let's just recap how it happened that the most successful Dodger season in years got effectively blacked out.
As I wrote in May, last year Time Warner Cable cut a deal with the Dodgers' new owners, led by Guggenheim Partners, to pay $8.35 billion over 25 years for TV rights to Dodgers games. TWC figured it could get much of that back by hawking the Dodgers channel, SportsNet LA, to the other pay-TV outlets in the region.
But TWC demanded such a high price for the channel that every other pay-TV firm in the area -- Cox, Charter Communications, the fiber services Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse, and the satellite companies DirecTV and Dish -- turned it down. Since Time Warner Cable serves only 30% of the pay-TV households in the region, that means Dodger games were blacked out for the other 70%. The reason is that within their service territories, cable companies are monopolies. If Cox or Charter is your provider, you can't switch to TWC; you could switch to Dish or DirecTV, but that wouldn't do you any good in this case. And FiOS and U-vers are available only in limited areas (and switching wouldn't do Dodger fans any good, either).
In other words, the magic of the free market was trumped by the black magic of greed. The Dodgers held out for the highest price they could get for the TV rights, figuring the team is such a jewel in the Southern California sports crown that the sky was the limit. Time Warner figured it could squeeze the other pay-TV companies for every last dime because, really, what TV service would dare not carry the Dodgers, whatever the price?
The answer was: all of them. The other services figured that, at worst, the loss of Dodger-hungry subscribers would do less damage to their bottom line than paying TWC's price.
Who suffered in all this? Dodger fans, obviously, but TWC, too. This summer they had to ratchet back their revenue and profit projections because of the L.A. debacle. They attracted complaints from members of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission; these may be paper tigers, but their attention is never welcome.
There's only one way to keep deals like this from happening again: End the cable monopolies. Instead, the FCC is poised to make the monopolization of the cable market even worse, by approving the merger of TWC with Comcast, the largest cable firm in the country.
So if you've been hurt by the Dodgers fiasco, write to the FCC and tell them not to give TWC even more market power. Sure, that's harsh, since TWC is "part of this community" and fellow Dodger fans and all that. So let's just call it "tough love."