TWC SportsNet LA: There are no serious carriage talks, and there never were

Daniel Frankel, FierceCableOne of baseball's most alluring proverbs--that every team is a pennant contender on Opening Day--held true for Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA on March 13.

Working for TheStreet, former Reuters L.A bureau chief Ron Grover, a power hitter in media journalism, wrote that TWC was "actively pursuing" a deal to expand coverage of its Dodgers channel.

Could pay-TV's most truculent carriage impasse finally break open by Opening Day?

The conventional media wisdom is that TWC (NYSE: TWC) is hopelessly stuck on its new regional sports network, and no deal to expand its reach is going to happen until Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) closes its purchase of TWC and adds needed leverage to the bargaining process.

The issue is a dead story. But I was the kid who thought the addition of Bobby Bonds would push the woeful California Angels into World Series contention in '76. I thought the Dodgers were going to win 100 games every year under Joe Torre. I wanted to believe these guys were actually talking to each other. When it comes to this story, a lot of us think like baseball fans, not shrewd media analysts. I picked up Grover's non-story.

In retrospect, Grover didn't report much of anything to indicate that actual progress was being made in the high-profile pay-TV stalemate that has kept local TV coverage of Dodgers games confined to 30 percent of the Southern California market.

He wrote that TWC was still seeking around $5 a subscriber for the regional sports network--the price tag already rejected by DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) and the rest of the market.

Grover alluded to counter offers made by Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and others that the channel be distributed a la carte. But as a TWC rep reminded me, Grover wasn't implying that TWC would actually consider any a la carte situation.

Of course, with public anger simmering once again as the new MLB season approaches, it might make sense for TWC to keep up appearances with bogus reports of deal progress.

On the other side, one turkey story deserved another.

On March 24, probably after getting off the phone with a rival pay-TV operator, the New York Post reported that TWC would need to write down close to $1 billion--the difference between the $5-per-subscriber it needed to offset the $8.35 billion it owes the Dodgers, and the $3-per-sub the market is willing to pay.

TWC responded with this off-speed pitch of a statement: "In fact, TWC does not carry an asset on its balance sheet related to the Dodgers and, therefore, there is no asset for it to write down now or in the future," the company said.


I called up TWC to get some explanation on this non-asset asset. The company had no official comment. But an individual close to their operations told me, essentially, that TWC views its Dodgers expense as just that, an expense, and not an asset.

On Monday, a TWC rep added this statement: "We want all Dodger fans to have access to SportsNet LA. Despite our repeated attempts, other providers are unwilling to engage in any discussions. If Dodger fans want to enjoy SportsNet LA this season, we encourage them to switch to a provider that carries the network." 

TWC also referred me to TWC's Q2 2014 earnings report, where the MSO concedes that it is losing a bucket of money every quarter on SportsNet LA … and asks investors to model projections on the assumption that no carriage deal for the RSN will happen anytime soon.

Baseball-loving media reporters should be modeling it the same way.--Daniel