The second half of the MLB season is underway, and the majority of Dodgers fans in Los Angeles still can’t watch the team’s games. Good work, everyone. But while the standoff between Time Warner and DirectTV continues on, the truth of the situation remains murky.
DirecTV is refusing to budge on their refusal to add SportsNet LA. Time Warner is going on a PR attack against the provider, claiming that DirecTV isn’t negotiating, has sat on money raised from a sports network surcharge instead of refunding it to subscribers, and wants the unprecedented flexibility to drop SportsNet LA if the Dodgers aren’t playing well, which could set a dangerous, and arbitrary, precedent for other RSNs in the future. Time Warner is also claiming that they’re not seeking $5 per subscribers (but didn’t refute the DirecTV-stated amount of at least $4 per customer, with escalators) and that DirecTV is paying more for other RSNs than what Time Warner seeks for SportsNet LA.
On the other side of the coin, DirecTV is claiming that they offered Time Warner more than the $3 per subscriber they paid last year for Prime Ticket, which carried 50 fewer Dodgers games than SporsNet LA, but also had the rights to three times as opposed to one. There’s also the prevailing belief that once/if the Comcast/Time Warner merger goes through, Comcast will bow to DirecTV’s demands and take a lower rate for SportsNet LA. That probably has a lot to do with the lack of negotiating on DirecTV’s part – why pay more and lock yourself into a cumbersome contract now when you could probably get a better rate before the 2015 season?
This dispute won’t end before the end of the season, and because of that, Dodgers fans will continue to suffer. It’s not hurting DirecTV too much, as only under 2,000 of the 1.2 million DirecTV households in the Los Angeles area have dropped their service (and who knows how many of them were because of the Dodgers?). But will we reach a breaking point soon? If the Dodgers continue their second half surge, much like they did last season, and reach the Postseason, are fans going to get more and more frustrated as the calendar flips from August to September?
We’re still in “wait and see” mode. DirecTV and Cox have both been amenable to adding SportsNet LA on a sports tier or on an a la carte basis, while Time Warner is still pressing for inclusion with all of the other channels and RSNs that are available with the providers. Something needs to give, and while this situation may not kill the RSN bubble that has been talked about for years, it could result in some major changes to the way providers offer RSNs. And once that ball gets rolling, television as we know it could start to change.