Just 143 days between now and the launch of the two new Time Warner Cable Southern California sports channels on Oct. 1, so any testy tug-o-war involving cable and dish distribution agreements that play out in the media will certainly cause some customer angst.
David Rone, the TWC Sports President in charge of creating content for these two new English- and Spanish-language superchannels to be called Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes, won’t guarantee a bumpy-free ride toward sports TV utopia.
“Obviously, our hopes and desires are this is as smooth a process as possible; one can’t predict, however, how smooth that happens,” Rone said today after the official launch date of the two channels was announced. “We hope to start the process early enough such that we give our distribution partners, and prospective distribution partners, enough lead time to do the deal and educate the market place to where the networks are going to be found.
“As it relates to the angst of the customers, that depends on how quickly we get the deals done. For Time Warner Cable subscribers, they’ll know it’s coming to them for many years to come.
“If there is subscriber angst, then it will be communicated to those who don’t have a relationship and it drives the dynamic in getting it done.”
So for those who aren’t subscribers, wait, wonder and worry. Especially if you’re fans of the Lakers, Galaxy or Sparks, the three long-timer signees in a combined mult-billion-dollar rights deal that make this channel happen sooner rather than later.
Media business experts have speculated there could be an added charge of up to $3.50 per subscriber for the two basic cable channels (they’ll likely come as a package deal). Negotiations with cable systems dangling channels over each other with the viewers stuck in the middle often get ugly in the public forum, leading to negative ad campaigns, lobbying and even threats from government officials who get dragged into the arguments by angry constituents.
Rone said relationships today between cable companies who have to business with each other are “probably similar to where there is always a push and a pull of what a programmer wants and a distributor wants. Ultimately most of these distributors have long-standing relationships with the networks.”
If not, it’s up to Dan Finnerty, hired last summer as a senior vice president of TWC Sports, to be the point man making things happen, having had that role with Comcast Sports before this.
The Lakers will be the anchor tenants to making the channels desirable to local cable customers. But the Dodgers could be the second pillar of support – much in the way Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket built their foundations more than 25 years ago.
Rone said he couldn’t categorize what TWC’s chances were to someday broker a deal with the Dodgers, whose Prime Ticket contract runs out after 2013 and negotiations begin this fall with anyone new.
“I can’t handicap it,” he said. “A lot lies in the new Dodgers ownership. But we know the Dodgers are another premium brand and we’re in the business of brining that to our company. Fox has the first bite of the apple (in renegotiations) and in the event the Dodgers have an opportunity and are interested in speaking, we are likewise and welcome that opportunity.”
TWC announced that Bill Macdonald and Stu Lantz would be returning as the Lakers’ broadcasters, while Adrian Garcia Marquez and Francisco Pinto would be on the Spanish-language Deportes channel doing the team.
Andy Rosa Adler, who worked at KNBC-Channel 4 on weekend morning news before recently going to New York, returns to anchor a nightly studio show. Heidi Watney, a former reporter for the Boston Red Sox’s NESN, willl be a sideline reporter.
Rone said he couldn’t speak to the notion that much of L.A.’s Hispanic community may not be able to financially support a Spanish-language channel as a paying cable customer.
However, he said, “from the programming side, I can tell you the resonance of the Lakers and Galaxy and their brands in the Hispanic community are unbelievably high — moreso than any other team in the marketplace. The Lakers’ ratings reflect that. They’re effectively two times what everyone else is in the market. If you aggregate the ratings of all the other teams together, they’re about equal to the Lakers. The passion for them is at an all-time high.”