So far Time Warner Cable and closely allied Bright House Networks are the only pay TV distributors that have agreed to carry TWC’s new SportsNet LA which will feature the Dodgers. But TWC chief Rob Marcus says he isn’t worried: “Not surprisingly all of the action happens on the eve of opening day,” he told the Deutsche Bank Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference this morning. “It’s the typical game that occurs.” He assured investors, though, that TWC won’t have to shell out big bucks if others play by different rules. “Our license fee to the Dodgers is not driven by subscriber volume,” he says. The deal that TWC signed last year requires it to pay $8.5B over a 25 year period to offer the channel and handle distribution.
As you might expect, most of the questions Marcus fielded dealt with Comcast’s $45.2B plan to buy his company. He disputed the claim that the combination of the two largest cable companies would give Comcast too much leverage in negotiations with programmers. “I find that whole line to be ironic given the experience we’ve had over the last dozen years or so” — including the black eye TWC ended up with last year when it tangled with CBS in a carriage contract dispute. Some small cable operators worry that programmers that have to cut prices for Comcast will make up for the deficit by raising prices for everyone else. “I don’t think the world changes in that regard,” Marcus says. He also doesn’t fear that federal regulators will look at Comcast and TWC’s national clout in broadband — which would make it more analogous to the AT&T merger with T-mobile that federal officials blocked — as opposed to their roles as local providers of TV services. “I don’t think that premise has any merit whatsoever,” Marcus says. “I don’t see any difference between broadband and video in this analysis.” His deal with Comcast and AT&T’s failed one with T-mobile are “totally different transactions in every way.”