Move could put big spotlight on Time Warner Cable as FCC looks on
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the satellite provider again pushed Time Warner Cable to agree to a deal in which DirecTV could offer the games ala carte to its customers.
“Rather than force everyone to bail Time Warner Cable out, the simplest solution is to enable only those who want to pay to see the remaining Dodgers games to do so at the price Time Warner Cable wants to set,” DirecTV said in a statement.
DirecTV isn’t alone in putting the blame on Time Warner Cable.
On Tuesday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said he was encouraged by TWC’s willingness to end the TV blackout but “troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace.”
Last year, Time Warner Cable entered into a 25-year agreement valued at more than $8 billion with the Dodgers to distribute SportsNet LA, but their inability to reach carriage agreements with other multichannel distributors has left about 70% of the region unable to access the games.
Wheeler went on to request that Time Warner Cable provide a written explanation of the arbitration process as proposed, how it will bring “relief to consumers expeditiously,” and other steps TWC will take to resolve the matter if arbitration is not successful.
He also chided Time Warner Cable for ignoring calls from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to resolve the impasse.
“We appreciate the FCC review of this dispute because all Dodger fans should be able to watch their first place team make a run for the pennant,” a spokesperson for Garcetti told Variety.
Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers clearly see that the proposal to enter into binding arbitration — advanced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and other area lawmakers on Monday — has advantages in ending the dispute. “We prefer to reach agreements through private business negotiations, but given the current circumstance, we are willing to agree to binding arbitration and to allow DirecTV customers to watch the Dodgers games while the arbitration is concluded,” Time Warner Cable said in a statement on Monday night.
Yet competitors have characterized Time Warner Cable as trying to pass off the costs of the Dodgers rights to all customers, even those who don’t plan on watching the channel. An ala carte deal would likely return far less revenue to TWC and the team, or it would be priced so high as to further anger fans with memories of once watching games on free over-the-air TV.
TWC has argued that the bundling of regional sports channels with other channels is standard industry practice, what may be an important point to an arbitration judge. Observers say that DirecTV would likely have a reluctance to enter into the unpredictable process of binding arbitration, where they would be bound by deal terms set by a retired judge.
In its statement, DirecTV said that they agree with Sherman that “any loyal Dodger fans deserve the opportunity to see games, yet not at the expense of the millions of other AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications, Verizon FiOS and other families who have little or no interest in paying for Time Warner Cable’s excesses.”