Wheeler letter to Marcus urges TWC to clean up its SportsNet LA mess

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has sent a letter to Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) chief executive Rob Marcus, demanding he do something--soon--to end a carriage dispute that has blacked out Dodgers baseball games in 70 percent of the Los Angeles market this season.

"Inaction is no longer acceptable," Wheeler wrote. "Your actions appear to have created the inability of consumers in the Los Angeles area to watch televised games of the Los Angeles Dodgers…I strongly urge you to end the impasses that are depriving Los Angeles consumers from being able to watch their home baseball team."

Wheeler added that he "intends to monitor this situation closely in order to determine whether intervention is appropriate and necessary."

The FCC chair's letter punctuated a sudden burst of activity that began unfolding over the weekend, when six Southern California lawmakers messaged Wheeler for help in the lengthy stalemate.

On Monday, Time Warner Cable released a statement indicating it was open to the lawmakers' suggestion of binding arbitration. DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV), which has the largest Southern California footprint among the rival pay-TV operators who have so far refused to sign on to TWC's new regional sports network home of the Dodgers, released a statement Tuesday indicating it has no interest in arbitration.

The progress, if it can be called that, is that there now seems to be a consensus among pay-TV operators, lawmakers and the federal government's top communications industry policy chief that this is TWC's mess to clean up.

In January 2013, the operator agreed to pay the Dodgers $8.35 billion over 25 years to acquire all non-national Dodgers baseball broadcast rights, removing them from free broadcast television. TWC then went into a soft market--beaten to a pulp just 18 months earlier when it forced the new exclusive home of the Lakers down its rival's throats--and tried to charge more than $4 per subscriber. The fees would go up over time and TV Everywhere rights were not part of the package, because Major League Baseball withholds those from regional sports network deals.

DirecTV and Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) have publicly said they'll only license the channel if they can offer it a la carte to their subscribers. 

For more:
- read this Bloomberg story
- read this Deadline Hollywood story

Related links:
Update: DirecTV not interested in arbitration with TWC over Dodgers channel
FCC rules for Armstrong in dispute over regional sports network
Report: TWC-DirecTV deal for Dodgers channel needs Comcast to happen

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