As a feud between Fox Sports Net and Time Warner Cable over the blackout of Los Angeles Dodgers games intensifies, a similar cutoff involving Anaheim Angels telecasts is looming.
Time Warner Cable declined Fox Sports Net's offer of airing 40 additional Dodger games this year for some 350,000 customers in the west San Fernando Valley, South Pasadena and other Southern California areas on June 27. The cable operator is set to black out 20 extra Angels games starting on July 25.
At issue is a surcharge of 23 cents per subscriber that Fox Sports Net wants to collect for the additional games, claiming increased rights fees and production costs.
Although Fox Entertainment Group owns both Fox Sports Net and the Dodgers, the broadcast division still must pay for rights to air the Dodger games, said Dennis Johnson, a spokesman for Fox Sports Net.
When the company increased its buy of Dodger games from 40 to 80 in 1999, it gave cable operators the option of picking up the extra broadcasts for a fee. The surcharge started at 21 cents per subscriber in 1999 and has risen by one cent each year since.
Fox Sports Net spent about $1 million in June on mobile billboards and radio and print ads to get the word out about Time Warner Cable's decision to forego additional Dodger broadcasts. Company officials said the Angels ads would begin appearing later this month.
"There's been no progress regarding talks about the Dodger and Angels issues," Johnson said.
A similar feud happened in L.A. in 1999 when cable operator Media One refused to accept a surcharge on extra Dodgers and Angels telecasts offered by Fox Sports West 2 and blacked them out for about a week before accepting the increased fees. Time Warner also resisted the surcharge at first, but settled the day the blackout was set to begin.Ads have energy theme
Playing on the state's energy problems and the threat of rolling blackouts, Fox's ads feature slogans such as: "Rolling blackout? Try permanent blackout" and "Say goodbye to Dodger blue. Say hello to black."
Fox Sports Net claims that the baseball-blackout ads, which include a toll-free telephone number for cable subscribers to call, have generated about 20,000 responses. But Time Warner, as of last week, had not backed down.
"It says to me that there're a lot of passionate Dodger fans out there who want to see their games," Johnson said about the responses from the ads.
Michael Luftman, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, said cable operators are bearing the brunt of the rapidly rising cost of sports programming and failing to make up the difference with increased cable rates.
"They're trying to cause us problems with our customers...for exerting a contractual right that they granted us," Luftman said about the Fox Sports Net ads. "It's not very partner-like behavior."
Paying this year's 23-cent surcharge for the additional Dodger games represents almost a $1-million expenditure for Time Warner Cable. "You get to a certain point where you have to say, 'Enough is enough,'" Luftman said.Cable survey conducted
Luftman said a survey conducted among Time Warner Cable subscribers showed that less than 10 percent were willing to pay more for their cable in order to get the additional Dodger games. "Clearly this is not a good reason for us to be forced to raise our rates for all our customers," he said.
Looking to benefit from the dispute, El Segundo-based satellite television service DirecTV Inc. last week began its own ad campaign to let Time Warner Cable subscribers know they can see the blacked out Dodger games on DirecTV.
"We have kind of jumped on this as a very, very golden opportunity," said Marc Altieri, a spokesman for DirecTV. "We're going right after Time Warner customers with a direct sales effort.
Some of the 40 Dodger and 20 Angels games in question will air on network television.
Prior to the Dodger blackout, Time Warner Cable and Fox Sports Net came head-to-head on the surcharge issue in the Houston market. Luftman said the cable company refused to back down and air the games in that city. Similar battles may arise in other cities.
"This is a situation that is part of a ten-year-long contract and it's going to come up all over the country again and again unless we can figure out a better way to manage it," he said.
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