Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA
|Launched||February 25, 2014|
|Owned by||Guggenheim Baseball Management
Time Warner Cable
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)
|Broadcast area||Greater Los Angeles Area
Las Vegas Valley
|Headquarters||El Segundo, California|
|Sister channel(s)||Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes|
|Dish Network||Channel 418|
|Time Warner Cable||Channel 319 (HD)
Channel 249 (SD)
Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA (otherwise known as simply SportsNet LA) is a regional sports network jointly owned by the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball team, and the Southern California division of Time Warner Cable. The network's programming is devoted completely to the Dodgers, and includes coverage of all Dodgers games not being exclusively televised by MLB's national television partners, along with news, interview, and documentary programming focusing on the team.
The network, which launched on February 25, 2014, was the result of a 25-year deal with Time Warner Cable reached in January 2013, valued at $8.35 billion, succeeding Fox Sports West as regional rightsholder for the team. The network also doubles as a sister network to TWC's existing regional sports network serving the Los Angeles region.
SportsNet LA is currently carried on Time Warner Cable and a few smaller distributors. Other major distributors, including DirecTV, have not yet reached deals to carry SportsNet LA, leaving the other 70% of the Los Angeles Dodgers market unserved. Major sticking points in negotiations have included the high cost of the channel, and the insistence by Time Warner Cable that SportsNet LA be carried with other mainstream premium channels, rather than in a separate sports tier or on an "a la carte" basis.
In late-2012, Fox Sports' exclusive period for negotiating a new broadcast deal with the Dodgers ended. Reports published at that time indicated that the team was negotiating with other potential broadcasters, such as the recently established Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and contemplating forming an in-house network with Dick Clark Productions, a television production company recently purchased by the Dodgers' new parent company, Guggenheim Partners.
On January 22, 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that Time Warner Cable had signed a deal to partner with the Dodgers to form a new regional sports network, which would be majority-owned by the team.
On January 28, the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable signed a 25-year broadcast agreement valued at $8.35 billion, subject to the approval of Major League Baseball, which would see the establishment of a new channel known as SportsNet LA. The deal ended long-standing broadcast partnerships with Fox Sports West, which had aired Dodgers games on its Prime Ticket channel since 1997; and with KCAL-TV, an independent station which had been the Dodgers' over-the-air broadcast television outlet since 2006. Time Warner's winning bid exceeded Fox's bid by $2 billion and was worth $210 million for the inaugural 2014 season or $1.5 million a game. That amount exceeded the revenues from Prime Ticket and KCAL-TV by more than four times. The agreement increased the number of games aired: nearly 100 games carried in 2014 compared with the 49 games aired by Prime Ticket in 2013.
Following the approval of the Dodgers television deal, the team announced on January 16, 2014 that SportsNet LA would launch on February 25, the eve of spring training and that all of the Dodgers' spring training games will be televised by the new network. At least 75 games broadcast by the network in the 2014 season will be simulcast in Spanish; the network does plan to eventually televise all its games in Spanish in the future. While the network is not directly branded with the Dodgers' name, its logo incorporates a depiction of the Dodgers' interlocking "LA" insignia; team co-owner Todd Boehly stated that the decision was "something [Time Warner Cable] thought was really valuable to their brand. We have the flexibility to sit down and evolve the name over time."
SportsNet LA's programming lineup is devoted entirely to the Dodgers, including live game coverage and original series focusing on aspects of the team. The network does not plan to cover any other team or sport; team president Stan Kasten described Sportsnet LA as being a "Dodger-only channel with Dodger-only content 24/7."
Access SportsNet: Dodgers serves as the network's flagship news and information program, airing nightly and as a pre- and post-game show. Its pre-game coverage will be preceded by Leadoff LA, which will feature analysis of the team by Sportsnet LA personalities and experts, batting practice coverage, and viewer interaction through social media. Dodgers Clubhouse will air weekly during the season with in-depth features on the team and its players, and interviews with manager Don Mattingly.
The documentary series Backstage: Dodgers will air weekly, featuring a behind-the-scenes perspective on the Dodgers' games, players, and staff. Other original series to be aired by Sportsnet LA will include Talkin' Blue, which will consist of panel discussions featuring Dodgers' players and staff, Connected With..., which will feature profiles and interviews of Dodgers players and staff, and documentaries. Timeless Dodgers will feature classic games from Dodgers history. Long-time television personality and avid Dodgers fan Larry King will host the interview program Larry King at Bat Dodgers Squeeze Play is a fast-paced one-hour replay featuring the key moments from the previous night's game.
In August 2013, the Dodgers confirmed that long-time, Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully would retain his traditional role as commentator for Dodgers games in California and Arizona on SportsNet LA. The 2014 MLB season marked his 65th as a baseball commentator.
On January 22, 2014, further information about SportsNet LA's talent was announced; games not called by Scully are called by Charlie Steiner (play-by-play) and Orel Hershiser (color commentary) with Alanna Rizzo as a field reporter. Rizzo, formerly of MLB Network, also hosts the pre- and post-game show from Dodger Stadium. Former baseball players Nomar Garciaparra and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (as well as Hershiser on days he isn't announcing) are also part of the pre- and post-game broadcasts. Former KABC-TV anchor John Hartung serves as a studio host.
Beginning with its inaugural 2014 season, SportsNet LA has only been carried by Time Warner Cable systems in Los Angeles, Bright House Networks' system in Bakersfield, and Champion Broadband serving a small portion of the San Gabriel Valley. Together, these distributors cover about only 30% of the market, leaving the remaining 70% without the channel. TWC has reportedly asked other distributors for an initial $4 to $5 per-month per-subscriber, with carriage fees increasing yearly over the length of the contract.
A major sticking point in negotiations has been TWC's insistence that SportsNet LA be carried with other mainstream premium channels rather than as a separate sports tier or on an "a la carte" basis. DirecTV says that doing so would pass the cost—the highest of any regional sports network in the United States—to its entire base of subscribers, including those not interested in the network. TWC responded by noting that bundled sports channels have been an industry standard, one that DirecTV itself adhered to in other markets. Another factor is the large number of regional sports channels in the Los Angeles area which has resulted in higher subscriber costs than in other metropolitan regions. In addition, some industry observers believe that Comcast, which is trying to acquire Time Warner Cable, would write off loses on the Dodger contract and offer distributors a better deal. That speculation lowered the signing incentive in 2014.
In July 2014, seven Southern California congressional representatives urged the Federal Communications Commission to mediate, arguing that the dispute could "set a precedent for vertically integrated companies" holding consumers "hostage to assert unfair market dominance." A day later at the urging of a different but overlapping set of Congressional representatives, Time Warner Cable agreed to binding arbitration, but DirecTV did not. The company suggested instead that distributors should be able to unbundle SportsNet LA, offering the channel to subscribers on a take-it-or-leave-it basis at whatever monthly fee TWC sets. Responding to congressional pressure, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler blamed TWC for the impasse and said the agency could intervene. He requested that TWC provide contractual details of the TWC-SportsNet LA agreement, as well as proposed terms and conditions of carriage between TWC and other distributors. TWC welcomed the FCC's intervention, but suggested the agency make similar inquiries of DirecTV and the other distributors.
At the end of the 2014 season, the Dodgers' television ratings (0.80) were the lowest in franchise history, averaging 42,000 households per game, less than half that of the team's nearest competitor, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. During the period, the Angels' ratings rose 49 percent, the largest gain in baseball. In a move to increase viewership, TWC made the Dodgers' final six regular season games available on KDOC-TV, an over-the-air independent channel carried by all cable and satellite companies in the region. Some observers saw TWC's inability to resell the channel as having industry-wide consequences. Los Angeles Times business reporter Joe Flint called the standoff a potentially "definitive moment for the world of sports programming, as the industry realizes that exorbitantly priced television deals can backfire." Some business consultants to sports franchises reported a drop of interest in forming regional sports networks dedicated to a single team.
Six weeks ahead of the 2015 season opening, negotiations were stalled. A contributing factor was that proposed acquisitions of two of the major participants remained unresolved. Rulings on both merger proposals, TWC by Comcast and DirecTV by AT&T, were expected from the FCC in the first quarter of 2015, but both have been delayed for reasons unrelated to baseball.
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