FCC Chair Asks Time Warner Cable Why It Treats Dodgers Fans So Badly

For Dodgers fans in L.A. without Time Warner Cable, going to see a game live may the only way to catch a game. (photo: Atwater Village Newbie)

For Dodgers fans in L.A. without Time Warner Cable, going to see a game live may the only way to catch a game. (photo: Atwater Village Newbie)

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, some 70% of people in L.A. are currently unable to watch the L.A. Dodgers because SportsNet L.A., a station jointly owned by the first-place team and the bottom-of-the-barrel cable company, won’t let other pay-TV carriers air the channel without paying a premium. While the FCC has generally stayed out of such messes, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has let TWC know that he’s not exactly happy with the current situation in Los Angeles.

“I am writing to express my strong concern about how your actions appear to have created the
inability of consumers in the Los Angeles area to watch televised games of the Los Angeles
Dodgers,” explains Wheeler in a letter [PDF] to TWC’s CEO-for-now Rob Marcus.

See, TWC wants other pay-TV carriers to a $4-5 month per customer to SportsNet L.A., and for the channel to be carried on the most popular tiers of service.

Some companies, like DirecTV have said they are willing to pay that fee — nearly as much as pay-TV operations ante up each month for cable’s most expensive network, ESPN — but that they would only do so if they could sell it as an add-on premium channel or as part of a sports package.

TWC recently said it is willing to enter into arbitration to settle these disputes, news that FCC Chair Wheeler finds encouraging.

But, writes Wheeler, “I am troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace.”

As such, he says the FCC will monitor the dispute. His office is also requesting that TWC provide it with an explanation of the proposed arbitration process, along with info on “how that process could bring relief to consumers expeditiously, and what other steps TWC will take to resolve this matter if arbitration is not successful.”

Since TWC isn’t currently making SportsNet L.A. available to satellite companies at an agreeable price, and since most consumers have only one choice for terrestrial cable TV service, the only option for Dodgers fans is to pay for an online package like MLB.TV, but even those games are blacked out during the live broadcast and only available for online viewing starting 90 minutes after each game’s conclusion.

(That is unless you use a DNS-spoofing service, high-speed proxy, or VPN to get around MLB.TV’s blackouts… just saying.)

Wheeler has requested that TWC turn over unredacted copies of certain documents within 10 days, including, “Any contract or agreement between TWC… and SportsNet LA…. providing TWC with rights to SportsNet LA;” “Any contract or agreement governing TWC’s… carriage of SportsNet LA, including any schedules or amendments to the contract or agreement, or any term sheet summarizing the terms and conditions under which TWC currently carries SportsNet LA;” and any documents showing which terms TWC has proposed to other carriers in the area, and what those carriers have proposed in return.

“I continue to have the hope that this dispute can be resolved in the marketplace,” concludes Wheeler. “Nevertheless, given the breadth and protracted nature of this dispute, it is appropriate that we begin to assemble the facts and build a record. Inaction is no longer acceptable.”