Time Warner Cable and Lakers ready launch of L.A. sports channels

Kobe Bryant can score but will Time Warner Cable?
(Los Angeles Times)

On Monday night, a star-studded lineup that includes Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, David Beckham and Landon Donovan will gather in El Segundo to celebrate Time Warner Cable’s new regional sports channels SportsNet and Deportes, which go live at 7 p.m.

It probably won’t take too long for Time Warner Cable executives to flip the switch on the channels -- which will carry the Lakers and the Galaxy -- since so far its cable systems are the only ones carrying the two networks. The company has yet to seal distribution deals with any of the other major providers in the area.

Though Time Warner Cable has 2.3 million subscribers here, that won’t be enough for the channels to be successful. DirecTV has almost 1.7 million subscribers, Cox has 1.2 million and Dish has 885,000 subscribers. For Time Warner Cable to have a chance at success with its sports networks, it must have wide distribution.

Laker fans have about a month before they need to panic because the first regular season game on the two channels isn’t until Oct. 31.


Time Warner Cable executives knew it was highly unlikely they would have all their distribution deals wrapped up prior to the premiere of the two networks.

“We assume there will be some conversations into October, that’s natural,” Mark Shuken, Time Warner Cable’s senior vice president and general manager, said recently in an interview.

The channels are not cheap. Time Warner Cable is asking as much as $3.95 per-month, per-subscriber for both, according to people familiar with the matter. For distributors farther outside the Los Angeles area, the price tag is lower.

The almost $4 subscriber fee makes the two channels among the most expensive in the country. Time Warner Cable has such high fees because it shelled out $3 billion for rights to the Lakers for the next 20 years. Time Warner Cable will also try to make a play for the Dodgers, whose games are currently on the Fox-owned regional sports network Prime Ticket.

So far, Time Warner Cable has not gone negative in negotiations with other distributors for the channel. But as Oct. 31 creeps up, Time Warner Cable will likely become more aggressive and more public in its talks with other distributors.

A DirecTV spokesman said the satellite broadcaster and Time Warner Cable “both share a responsibility to ensure that both sports fans and non-sports fans alike avoid any extraordinary increases to their families’ monthly bills.”

Pay-TV distributors such as DirecTV and Time Warner Cable have expressed concern about the rising cost of sports programming and the burden it puts on the budgets of consumers. One of Time Warner Cable’s motivations in launching its own channel is to try to exert some control over costs by working directly with sports franchises rather than paying another programmer.

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