While a potential merger between Comcast and Time Warner has presently been shelved, the future of the merger is a question – and that could be thanks to Time Warner’s embattled SportsNet LA RSN.
We finally have a solid answer on the rate that Time Warner is asking from its customers for SportsNet LA – $3.84 per month per subscriber, which is a simply massive amount. Only five RSNs in the country ask for more money out of subscribers – Fox Sports North, CSN Mid-Atlantic, NESN, CSN Philadelphia, and TWC SportsNet. Of course, all but one of those RSNs has the rights to multiple big four teams, and the one that doesn’t is in the same market as SportsNet LA and is also owned by Time Warner. Gee, if only they were packaged together…
Anyway, how is SportsNet LA holding up the merger? Because if the merger does happen, Comcast will enter both the New York and Los Angeles markets with a splash, and they’ll be in a solid position to start charging customers more money. Remember – Comcast is the owner of NBC and NBCSN, and if providers don’t play ball with them, they can pull both channels. If Comcast were able to enter the Los Angeles market through the merger, they would hold an incredible amount of power over DirecTV and other providers – carry SportsNet LA, or we’re going to start pulling networks until you do.
In addition to the SportsNet LA drama, a merger between Comcast and Time Warner would also increase Comcast’s ownership stake in SNY, which is where the New York aspect of things come into play. But because of the two other RSNs in the New York market (YES, MSG), and SNY only holding the less attractive Mets rights, I don’t think Comcast would dare play with as much fire in New York as they might in Los Angeles.
Naturally, Comcast is denying that owning even more RSNs will have an effect on their negotiations with providers. The situation I described above didn’t happen in Houston when every provider other than Comcast declined to pick up CSN Houston, and now, CSN Houston is on life support and about to turn into Root Sports Houston. I don’t think that type of disaster will take place in Los Angeles – there’s a lot more money behind SportsNet LA than there is/was behind CSN Houston, which was bankrupt after less than a year. If the merger happens, a battle between Comcast/Time Warner and DirecTV seems inevitable – and at the end of the day, only the consumers will suffer.