But depending on whom you’re beholden to as a program carrier, you could get as tripped up in the process as a hitter might be trying to react to a Clayton Kershaw changeup.
The Dodgers-owned channel that goes live at 7 p.m. Tuesday night is only available for now in Southern California to the two million or so who are a Time Warner Cable subscriber. Another handful who have Bright House in Bakersfield are in as well.
The rest are to be determined. And, perhaps, undermined.
Just understand that for Wednesday’s first exhibition game against Arizona at 12:10 p.m., there’s no more Prime Ticket, and no more KCAL Channel 9 – and it could be that way for a few more weeks, or months, or . . .
Let’s look at this it this way:
Q: What is the sticking point causing everyone else but TWC to be there from the start?
A: The subscriber price of the channel, which most claim to be not at high as the $5 reported recently but more in the $4.50 range. But that is the price negotiated between distributor and the carrier, not what is ultimately passed on fully to the customer. However, as monthly bills rise, and surcharges are added, it’s pretty simple math as to what’s propelling it. Sports channels like SportsNet L.A., coming 18 months after the launch of the Laker-heavy TWC SportsNet and TWC Deportes, weigh heavily in this equation. So Cal systems also continue to carry Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket (despite the loss of the Dodgers and Lakers) at a nominal fee. Some also have also added the Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports 1 to the mix.
“We’re at a different time in the industry since the Lakers’ channels launched,” said Ed Desser, head of the Santa Monica-based Desser Sports Media, Inc., and a consultant to the Lakers in their hook up with TWC. “We’ve had a Time Warner and Comcast arrangement take place, Dish Network deciding it didn’t want the Lakers, both telecos (AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS) expanding their distribution, DirecTV becoming a more mature business without the benefit of a data service augmenting its video service.
“With all these things converging at the same time come into play when you’re thinking about how each service will serve its constituents on Wall Street, its shareholders and its subscribers, and also worry about maintaining its cost structures. It’s a very interesting puzzle for each to figure out.”
Q: How invested is Time Warner Cable?
A: More than just the arrangement of producing the games and content for the 24/7 channel. When it signed a 25-year deal reported to be some $8-billion-plus with the Dodgers, it said it would take care of covering the cost even if not all other distributors were there for the launch. The first season of the agreement calls for some $250 million in rights fees to be paid to the Dodgers. Last year, Prime Ticket/KCAL combined to pay $50 million for the same schedule.
“A company like Time Warner is focused on ‘cost certainty,’ meaning if it pays more now, it will pay less later, and that’s an intelligent business decision as a way of collaring a rate of growth (for RSNs) that has been meteoric in recent years,” said Desser.
Q: What is the likelihood of DirecTV signing on sooner rather than later?
A: Remember how long it took Don Mattingly to get a contract extension?
DirecTV held out nearly two weeks into the Lakers’ 2012-13 regular season before agreeing to add TWC SportsNet. It has stood its ground against the Pac-12 Network. But with two million customers in Southern California, and a marketing strategy that banks on being the home for sports-minded customers with its extensive lineup of channels, this could be a tipping point.
“DirecTV has an obligation to deliver the right value in our content offering, and the proposal for the Dodgers is the most expensive regional sports network in the United States – and it’s only a one-team RSN,” Dan York, DirecTV’s head of programming acquisitions, said Monday.
“The fact that Time Warner Cable has set an unprecedented rights deal with the Dodgers doesn’t mean that all consumers – their own, and their competitors – should just pick up the tab.
“Consumers have grown wise to what is going on in these negotiations. They know their providers are fighting on their behalf for a fair price. Their patience, while this all plays out, is appreciated.”
Q: What are other cable systems saying?
A: Andy Albert, a senior VP of content for Cox, has said: “We hope it is possible to come to an agreement with TWC SportsNet LA that does not burden our customers with excessive price increases. We will continue to fight on behalf of all our customers, not just sports/Dodgers fans, and protect the value of the products and services we provide.”
Verizon’s statement is that it is “always looking to provide customers with the content they want while making sure it is economically feasible.”
Q: What are the important dates to keep in mind as this moves forward?
A: There’s Wednesday, the first exhibition game. And 18 more games after that.
There’s March 22-23, when the Dodgers start the regular season with two games in Sydney, Australia against Arizona. Even though the MLB Network is covering them, SportsNet L.A. has exclusive rights to carry them, with Vin Scully on the call.
For the March 27-29 exhibition series against the Angels, the alternative is watching the Angels’ Fox Sports West coverage.
The Sunday, March 30 re-start of the regular season in San Diego is an ESPN game, but the next two (April 1-2) are on SportsNet L.A.
Then there’s Friday, April 4, the 1:10 p.m. home opener against San Francisco. SportsNet L.A. has it.
Q: Yippee for me, I’m a TWC subscriber. Where can I find the channel?
A: The company finally announced Monday that for most systems, it will be on 431 or 319 on the high-definition feed, 249 on the standard definition feed and 68 or 70 on the standard def analog system.
Please tell us you’re still not watching TV on analog standard def.
Q: What does the first night of programming look like?
A: It starts with the 90-minute “Access SportsNet Dodgers” from the TWC Sports studios in El Segundo, with Orel Hershiser, Nomar Garciaparra, Jerry Hairston Jr., John Hartung, Charley Steiner, Alanna Rizzo and members of the Dodgers ownership and team chiming in.
From there is a “Backstage: Dodgers” documentary series that goes behind the scenes with players in the locker room.
“We’re all fans of the HBO ‘Hard Knocks’ series and to do that quality of work without us feeling like they’re in the way is a testament to how well they do their jobs,” said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. “We were blown away by it.”
A series called “Connected With …” airs expanded interviews with Clayton Kershaw and Don Mattingly. Then the “2013 Dodgers: A Whole New Blue” reviews last season at 10 p.m.
Q: If SportsNet L.A. isn’t on my system during spring training, could I still see Dodgers game if they pop up on ESPN or MLB Network?
A: ESPN has seven spring training games on its schedule from March 17-27 but none involved the Dodgers. MLB Network has 200 games to show this spring, most on tape delay, including the Dodgers-Diamondbacks on Wednesday. But those are blacked out in the L.A. market because of the Dodgers’ exclusivity on SportsNet L.A
Q: Can I circumvent the system by subscribing to MLB.TV and get to see games that way?
A: No, the Dodgers exclusivity prevents that, too. Nice idea, though.
Q: Radio anyone?
A: Of course, that’s an option, on the Dodgers’ 570-AM KLAC flagship station. Starting with Wednesday’s opener. Last we checked, it was free.
Staff writer JP Hoornstra contributed to this story.