David Crane/Staff Photographer
Gardners put the finishing touches on the street-side flowerbeds as the Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportives channels near their launch date Monday.
The party starts Monday, and it’s guaranteed to go on for at least 20 years.
At the El Segundo offices of the new Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes, opening night comes with an actual red carpet.
Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are supposed to walk on it, having come all the way over from down the block where they’ll have just finished with the first day of training camp at the Lakers’ facilities.
The Galaxy’s David Beckham, Landon Donovan and their teammates are on the pass list, too. Same with Magic Johnson and a list of other Hollywood celebs for the large tented gathering.
But there will also be an elephant in the room: Who else, aside from TWC customers with HD channels 403 or 481, will actually see these channels as they flip the switch at 7 p.m.?
It could get more than one Lakers fan seeing red.
In an area of the South Bay where the aerospace industry thrives, watching the liftoff of these two TWC 24/7 sports channels could be as curious as when Howard Hughes tried to get the Spruce Goose airborne.
Again, for those who’ve missed the memo: TWC SportsNet and its Spanish counterpart Deportes has every Laker game, home and road. No more Fox Sports West. No more KCAL-Channel 9.
Not to cause a panic, but without a TWC subscription – at least for now – there’s no more Lakers, either, unless you’re content with an occasional appearance on ESPN, ABC or TNT, or when they’re facing the Clippers on Prime Ticket.
An estimated 3 million viewers in greater L.A. are on a TV system other than TWC, with DirecTV accounting for more than 1 million of those. As we’ve seen with those who’ve been shutout of the new Pac-12 Networks, anxiety levels rise when live games approach. The first point-of-sale is the Lakers’ first exhibition game against Golden State in Fresno on Sunday, Oct. 7.
Full-on panic and corporate public jousting could start in the days leading up to the Lakers’ Oct. 30 season opener.
This could get ugly. Worst than when FSW launched FSW2 (not Prime Ticket) in 1997 and put the Dodgers on it (with the Clippers and Ducks) to force consumer demand for it.
There are six million customers in the Lakers’ TV territory that goes north to Fresno, south to the Mexican border, west to Hawaii and east to Las Vegas. Any other cable or dish system that takes the channels will be asked to pay a reported $3.95 per month per subscriber — that’s about a buck less than the Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket combo, right in the range for ESPN, and almost four times as much as what the Pac-12 Network is asking.
The immediate success of SportsNet could also be critical to the Dodgers’ financial future. Their deal with Prime Ticket ends after 2013, and they’ve got six weeks from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30 to negotiate an extension. Otherwise, expect TWC to jump in.
No wonder Magic Johnson, who happens to be a new Dodgers co-owner, is a guest at the opening night festivities to see it first hand.
As the networks’ senior vice president and general manager, Mark Shuken oversees all the day-to-day management, programming, production, marketing and business operations. Negotiating carriage deals aren’t part of his deal.
But the former president and CEO of DirecTV Sports Networks who has 25 years in the sports cable business insists that, while the strategy may appear to some to get as many frustrated viewers to sign up with TWC, a full-court press to capture as many customers as possible is the goal.
When you’ve committed some $3 billion for the 20-year deal to get the Lakers, for starters, you definitely would like to share the expenses.
“The partnership with the Lakers, Galaxy, Sparks and the business we have around the entire investment is predicated on the absolute maximization of reach,” said Shuken. “There’s no ambiguity about that.”
Nor is there a question of what kind of resources TWC has put into this endeavor. It starts with a 60,000-square foot facility that houses the operations of more than 120 full-time employees, many of whom were hired in the last dozen months.
Two giant satellite dishes on the front lawn displaying the Lakers and Galaxy logos aren’t going to be missed, either.
There are two entirely separate operations for the English-language SportsNet and Spanish-language Deportes, requiring their own spacious studios, control rooms, voice-over booths and editing bays.
This almost goes beyond state of the art – it’s an all-digital facility without a tape library, with eight edit bays. An all-LED lit studio uses less than 5,000 watts of electricity versus a typical facility that puts out 75,000 watts with incandescent lighting. It’s all geared to get the green stamp of approval with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
David Crane/Staff Photographer
A.J. Ponsiglione, the coordinating producer for daily studio programs, has been part of build-outs at KCBS-Channel 2 and the “SportsCenter” studios at L.A. Live, but this one is different.
“With those, you had a place to maybe fall back on, but now we’re working without a net,” said the producer working in L.A. sports the last 15 years but at TWC only the last six weeks.
“I know we’ll make this all come together. We have a great team, with people from all over town – Fox Sports Net, ESPN – in talent and production. This last week has been a sprint to the finish.”
Ponsiglione will oversee the hour-long pre- and post-game shows that come with every Lakers, Galaxy and Sparks game, as well as other social-media driven shows that air during the week.
The inventory of both SportsNet and Deportes will be dedicated to many full-access team shows, one called “Backstage” that’s been compared to an HBO “Hard Knocks.” A five-part series on how the Laker Girls are chosen begins next week. Deportes has plans to show more boxing, lucha libre and soccer than SportsNet, as well as have programming related to it.
Replays of games will be fortified with more content and analysis, rather than be whittled down.
And all content will be available through authenticated access on phones and computers.
“The old word is ‘coverage’ — our experience is going to be much more immersive,” said Shuken. “It’s easy to speak of headlines and talk of adjectives. But it’s important, when you see the schedule for the networks and the studios, a typical regional sports network might invest of one, two or three categories in how to do things, but we’re investing in all of them.”
From start to end, there will enough original programming including shows generated from high school and college media deals that Shuken says this all-sports network is going to be infomercial-free (i.e.: See FSW or Prime between the hours of 2 a.m. and noon, outside of the “Dan Patrick Show.”)
“That is something that’s become accepted in the industry but it speaks badly with regards to the brands of the networks and to Time Warner Cable as an owner,” said Shuken.
Conversely, some may wonder if the channels aren’t already infomercials for the teams they cover. Shuken said it’ll be far from a cheerleading channel.
“We are unapologetic fans, and fans know as well as anyone when you’re not telling the truth or pandering,” he said. “I know fans remain loyal. I’m not worried about that. But I understand what the fans expect from the team’s media partner and we’re going to deliver.”
The talent asked to deliver will be familiar – former FSW broadcasters Bill Macdonald and Stu Lantz stay on the Lakers games with sideline reporter Mike Trudell, and additional reporting by John Ireland. The studio shows merges James Worthy with Chris McGee and Andy Adler, with possible additions of Kurt Rambis, Robert Horry or Rick Fox.
Executive producer and VP of content Larry Meyers, who has has experience at Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, says keeping the viewer feeling comfortable in the midst of change is key in this transition period.
“If you’re a Laker fan watching a game, no doubt it’s what you’ve come to know and expect,” said Meyers. “That’s important to us and that’s just the right thing to do.
“What’s different is creating a brand which, on a seven-day-a-week basis, will have more level of depth and access. You’re really going to get behind the curtain.”
With that, raise the curtain on a new era.