What’s more, the company has said in recent media interviews that it pays more to carry other regional sports networks, including one owned by DirecTV in Pittsburgh, than it is asking carriers to pay for SportsNet LA in Los Angeles.
“The business model for SportsNet LA is consistent with every other regional sports network in the country,” said Maureen Huff, vice president of public relations at Time Warner Cable, “including the ones owned by companies like DirecTV. We believe that the value of SportsNet LA is completely in line with other regional sports networks across the country.”
The standoff comes as pay-TV companies are feeling more pressure than ever to retain subscribers by keeping bills low, especially as they face lower-cost digital alternatives such as Netflix. Last year was the first time pay-TV subscriptions fell in the United States. The companies are struggling to keep their audience and get new viewers as more of today’s teens and young adults get their entertainment elsewhere, especially via the Internet.
Rising content costs are perhaps most pronounced in the sports world, since the value of broadcast rights has skyrocketed in recent years, as exemplified in the recent deal for Dodgers games.
Time Warner Cable also launched a channel in 2012 to carry Los Angeles Lakers games and other local sports. Time Warner Cable feuded with some providers over price, although the major ones eventually agreed to carry it, except for Dish Network, which still does not.
But as the Lakers struggle through a dismal season, pay-TV executives said they feel they’re paying too much for the channel relative to its ratings. That sentiment might have carried over into talks for carriage of SportsNet LA.
Huff said DirecTV has asked for a “fair weather” clause that would allow the service to drop the Dodgers channel if the team and ratings suffer. She said that was just one reason talks with DirecTV have ended. Another demand from DirecTV was that the channel be carried a la carte.
“It’s not just about money. It’s about terms they were demanding,” Huff said. “They want the right to drop the network if the Dodgers don’t play well.”
(While Huff said talks are off, DirecTV said negotiations are continuing.)
About 70 percent of TV households in Los Angeles still can’t see the games. The only cable provider to pick up SportsNet LA is Bright House Networks, which has ties to Time Warner Cable and a Southern California audience that’s concentrated in the Bakersfield area; the provider serves fewer than 6,000 households in Los Angeles, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
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