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Melding a new TV partner into the Lakers' lineup

Time Warner Cable is learning launching a sports channel is not easy. It has struck deals with Charter Communications, Verizon Fios and now AT&T U-Verse, but not DirecTV, Dish Network and Cox Cable.

October 28, 2012|By Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times
  • DirecTV, Dish Network and Cox Cable have yet to sign on to carry Time Warner Cables SportsNet and Deportes, a Spanish-language sports network.
DirecTV, Dish Network and Cox Cable have yet to sign on to carry Time Warner… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are not the only additions to the Lakers this season. The storied franchise also has a new television partner: Time Warner Cable.

And just as new players sometimes have trouble fitting in with the established stars, Time Warner Cable is learning that launching a sports channel is not as easy as an uncontested layup.

Time Warner Cable struck deals with Charter Communications and Verizon Fios on Friday, and on Saturday added AT&T U-Verse and its 450,000 subscribers. But key pay-TV distributors DirecTV, Dish Network and Cox Cable have yet to sign on to carry Time Warner Cable's SportsNet and Deportes, a Spanish-language sports network. That means millions of area Lakers fans may be unable to watch the majority of the team's games.

Time Warner Cable, which has about 2 million subscribers in Southern California, is frantically trying to seal deals with other cable and satellite companies in time for Wednesday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the first one that will be telecast by SportsNet and Deportes.

DirecTV and Cox, which combined have almost 3 million subscribers in Southern California, are playing hardball. Both have indicated they are willing to carry the channels on a specialty tier that subscribers have to request to receive, but neither wants to offer it on the most widely distributed service.

"We understand that sports programming is very popular, but that programming comes at an extremely high price," Cox said in a statement. DirecTV added that it and Time Warner Cable "share a responsibility to ensure that both fans and non-fans alike avoid any extraordinary increases to their families' monthly bills."

Being on a specialty tier is a non-starter for Time Warner Cable. It struck a $3-billion, 20-year rights deal for the Lakers, and it needs the channels in as many homes as possible to maximize advertising and subscription fee revenue.

"Cox and DirecTV know that there is no regional sports network anywhere in the country that is offered on an optional tier — that would be unprecedented," Time Warner Cable said in a statement. Time Warner Cable is hopeful that since Verizon competes head-to-head with Cox, an agreement will be reached before the channel's first tipoff.

Before this season, the Lakers were available on Fox Sports West and KCAL. Time Warner Cable went after the Lakers primarily because it was tired of paying high subscription fees to other regional sports networks and figured it would cut out the middleman and create its own service.

Time Warner Cable is seeking as much as $3.95 per month, per subscriber for SportsNet and Deportes, people familiar with the matter said. Cox and other operators note that though Time Warner Cable is carrying 53 Lakers games, an additional 29, including several marquee matchups, will be on ESPN, TNT and ABC.

Typically, feuds between programmers and distributors go down to the wire and then a deal is reached. However, on occasion these spats do drag on. In New York City, Cablevision refused to carry the Yankees network YES for an entire season before politicians got involved and helped broker a deal.

joseph.flint@latimes.com

twitter.com/JBFlint

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