Dodgers com­ing soon to Char­ter

About 300,000 sub­scribers in L.A. area can watch games be­gin­ning Tues­day.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Meg James

Ca­ble com­pany will begin car­ry­ing Sport­sNet LA with Tues­day’s game.

Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions said it will of­fer the Los An­ge­les Dodgers-owned ca­ble chan­nel to its cus­tomers in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia be­gin­ning Tues­day, end­ing a 14-month TV black­out that’s left thou­sands of base­ball fans fum­ing.

The first broad­cast will be the sec­ond of a three­game se­ries against the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs at Dodger Sta­dium. Char­ter has some 300,000 sub­scribers in the Los An­ge­les re­gion.

The move comes less than two weeks af­ter Char­ter un­veiled a nearly $57-bil­lion deal to ac­quire Time Warner Ca­ble, which un­til now had been the only ma­jor pay-TV op­er­a­tor to carry Sports Net LA. Char­ter was mo­ti­vated to begin of­fer­ing the games as it seeks to build good­will for a pro­posed takeover that would make it the largest pay-TV com­pany in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

The Stam­ford, Conn., com­pany didn’t want to an­tag­o­nize South­ern Cal­i­for­nia cus­tomers who have ex­pressed con­cerns about the stale­mate. There has also been sharp crit­i­cism from key gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Congress and the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion.

“The Dodgers are an iconic fran­chise and part of the fab­ric of the com­mu­nity,” Tom Rut­ledge, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Char­ter, said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “We are very ex­cited to be bring­ing the Dodgers back to Char­ter cus­tomers in the L.A. area.”

Char­ter’s shift rep­re­sents the first break in a

more than year­long log jam that has pre­vented hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes in the re­gion from re­ceiv­ing the chan­nel. Char­ter had been one of the pri­mary pay-TV com­pany hold­outs that re­fused to carry Sports Net LA, which is among the most ex­pen­sive sports net­works in the na­tion.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents who live in Char­ter’s ser­vice area — which in­cludes Long Beach, Bur­bank, Glen­dale, Malibu, Whit­tier and parts of River­side and San Bernardino coun­ties — have been par­tic­u­larly hard-hit by the Dodgers TV black­out. Those fans were pre­vented from watch­ing the Dodgers on TV be­cause Time Warner Ca­ble does not pro­vide ser­vice to those neigh­bor­hoods.

Still, other pay TV providers — in­clud­ing DirecTV, Dish Net­work, AT&T Uverse and Ver­i­zon FiOS — have not budged. Ex­ec­u­tives at those com­pa­nies have said con­sumer in­ter­est in the chan­nel isn’t strong enough to jus­tify the hefty price tag, which con­sult­ing firm SNL Ka­gan has es­ti­mated at as much as $4.90 monthly per sub­scriber home in L.A. Pay-TV com­pa­nies are try­ing to hold the line on costs in an ef­fort to hold onto cus­tomers.

“This moves things in the right di­rec­tion,” said Rep. Brad Sher­man (D-Sher­man Oaks), whose dis­trict in- cludes Bur­bank. “It re­duces the prob­lem, but it doesn’t elim­i­nate the prob­lem. We still want ev­ery­one in Dodger­land to be able to watch the Dodgers.”

Sher­man plans to con­tinue lob­by­ing for bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion, which would au­tho­rize a me­di­a­tor to scruti- nize the sit­u­a­tion and set a price for the chan­nel. “I’m go­ing to be keep­ing up the ef­fort to get bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion so that ev­ery car­rier in Los An­ge­les will be able to carry the chan­nel at a fair price,” he said.

DirecTV, which last year re­fused to en­ter bind­ing ar- bi­tra­tion, de­clined to com­ment, as did sev­eral other pay-TV providers.

Nei­ther Time Warner Ca­ble nor Char­ter would dis­cuss terms of their car­riage deal for the sports chan­nel, in­clud­ing how much Char­ter has agreed to pay.

Char­ter said Sport­sNet LA will be in­cluded in its most widely avail­able ca­ble of­fer­ing, which is called Spec­trum TV Se­lect. The net­work also will be in­cluded in the Spec­trum Busi­ness Se­lect packages.

In the Los An­ge­les mar­ket, Sport­sNet LA will be­come Char­ter’s stan­dard­def­i­ni­tion Chan­nel 44. It will be broad­cast in high def­i­ni­tion on Chan­nel 789.

Char­ter sub­scribers will not be charged ex­tra for the chan­nel, ac­cord­ing to a per­son familiar with the deal terms who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

Char­ter sub­scribers in San Luis Obispo and Porter­ville also will have ac­cess to the chan­nel. Span­ish-lan­guage broad­casts and Korean-lan­guage sec­ondary au­dio pro­gram­ming broad­casts also will be avail­able in th­ese mar­kets.

“We’re thrilled that Dodger fans will now be able to watch Sport­sNet LA’s 24/7 Dodger pro­gram­ming on Char­ter’s sys­tems,” Stan Kas­ten, CEO of the Dodgers, said in a state­ment.

Char­ter’s shift in strat­egy could prompt the other providers to re­assess their re­sis­tance, but that might not hap­pen for a while. Cox Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which pro­vides ca­ble ser­vice in Or­ange County, said Thurs­day that Char­ter’s move has not changed its po­si­tion on car­ry­ing the chan­nel.

An AT&T spokesper­son said the com­pany “is open to dis­cus­sions, but we won’t agree to ex­or­bi­tant fees that Sport­sNet LA is seek­ing be­cause they would be passed on to our cus­tomers.”

In ad­di­tion, DirecTV, the sec­ond-largest pay-TV com­pany in the re­gion with more than 1.2 mil­lion sub­scribers, is in the process of be­ing ac­quired by telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant AT&T. That $49-bil­lion deal is ex­pected to win reg­u­la­tory ap­proval in the next few weeks.

Un­til Char­ter’s de­ci­sion, the Dodgers and Time Warner Ca­ble have been deal­ing with a public re­la­tions headache over the chan­nel’s limited dis­tri­bu­tion. Time Warner Ca­ble, in par­tic­u­lar, had been in a tight spot — un­able to per­suade other pay-TV com­pa­nies to carry the chan­nel.

Time Warner Ca­ble, which agreed to dis­trib­ute the chan­nel as part of a 25year, $8.35-bil­lion ar­range­ment, has been los­ing more than $100 mil­lion a year on the deal that it struc­tured with the Dodgers to dis­trib­ute the chan­nel, which launched in 2014.

Mak­ing the chan­nel avail­able to Char­ter cus­tomers should help Time Warner Ca­ble trim some of its losses.

Christina House For The Times

CHAR­TER Com­mu­ni­ca­tions is of­fer­ing the L.A. Dodgers-owned ca­ble chan­nel in the L.A. area to help build good­will for a pro­posed takeover of Time Warner Ca­ble.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

CHAR­TER Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ de­ci­sion to of­fer L.A. Dodger games be­gin­ning Tues­day will ease a public re­la­tions headache for the Dodgers and Time Warner Ca­ble. Above, Dodgers closer Chris Hatcher in April 2013.

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