AT&T, Feds Settle Dodgers Lawsuit Over SportsNet LA; Blackout To Continue

Image courtesy of Atwater Village Newbie

The Department of Justice and AT&T settled a lawsuit claiming DirecTV — which AT&T purchased in 2015 — colluded unlawfully with other carriers about their negotiations to carry SportsNet LA, the only cable channel in Los Angeles to air most Dodgers games. But that doesn’t mean the cable provider will be adding the channel to its lineup anytime soon.

The DOJ announced Thursday that it had settled [PDF] the civil antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV, ensuring that when the cable providers are negotiating with video programing providers — like SportsNet LA — they do not illegally share competitively sensitive information with rivals.

For those unfamiliar: The lawsuit [PDF], which was filed in Nov. 2016, accused DirecTV of acting as the “ringleader” of an information sharing agreement among itself, Cox, AT&T (which now owns DirecTV) and Charter (which at the time, did not own TWC).

Essentially, the DOJ claimed DirecTV shared sensitive information about its negotiations with SportsNet LA — owned by Time Warner Cable (now Charter) and Guggenheim Baseball Management, better known as the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group — with the competition.

The lawsuit alleged that starting in 2014, DirecTV Chief Content Officer Daniel York exchanged competitively sensitive information with other executives at the cable companies in order “to reduce each rival’s fear that competitors would” cave in to SportsNet LA’s price demands and carry the channel.

Additionally, by sharing the information the carriers no longer had to fear that a decision to “refrain from carriage would result in subscribers switching to a competitor that offered the channel,” the DOJ claimed, adding that “eliminating this threat corrupted the competitive bargaining process and likely contributed to the lengthy blackout.”

That blackout is gearing up to enter its fourth season, the Los Angeles Times reports, noting that it doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon, either.

That’s because under Thursday’s settlement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, the carriers simply agreed not to illegally share competitively sensitive information with their rivals. It also requires the companies to monitor certain communications their programming executives have with their rivals, and to implement antitrust training and compliance programs.