Here's a philosophical question for you: If a team assembles what might be the greatest starting lineup in the history of basketball, but nobody can see it on TV, does it make a sound?
The answer, of course, is yes. It makes a very loud sound, the sound of millions of unhappy Los Angelinos.
Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers concluded their preseason (Unvictorious Baby!), and the only way you saw any of it was if you had Time Warner Cable already, went to a sports bar, or are willing to delve into the depths of the internet for less legal (and significantly less clear) means of watching. The Lakers will be playing all non-nationally televised Lakers games on TWC's recently launched Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, but as of this writing, the only non TWC entity to agree to distribute the channel is something called Bright House Networks.
Of course, that isn't all that big a deal in and of itself. We've been told for months that the negotiations for Sportsnet were ongoing, and that they were unlikely to conclude before the preseason. But it was unfathomable that any distributor would be foolish enough to actually jeopardize regular season games before resolving all this nonsense. Well folks, that no longer appears to be the case. On Wednesday, two providers (Directv and Cox Cable) went public with complaints about their negotiations with TWC over distribution of Sportsnet, and TWC responded with the following public statement which found its way into this humble scribe's inbox.
October 24, 2012 - Los Angeles, CA - With the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Galaxy and Los Angeles Sparks, two networks and unprecedented behind-the-scenes programming, Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Time Warner Cable Deportes are delivering tremendous value for Southern California sports fans. Any assertion that we are the highest priced regional sports outlet in the country is simply untrue; as a significant buyer of regional sports across the country, we know that there are higher priced regional sports networks, including Root Sports that we buy from DirecTV. Cox and DirecTV know that there is no regional sports network anywhere in the country that is offered on an optional tier -- that would be unprecedented. If Cox or DirecTV choose not to carry our networks, we and their customers will be very disappointed but we are confident there will be other alternatives for their customers to see this highly-anticipated Lakers season.
First off, let's get one thing clear. I'm not picking sides. I've provided the TWC statement because it was sent to me, and the others were not I have no idea of the veracity of the claims above that Directv owns a more expensive sports network than TWC is asking for. I simply know that TWC isn't evil for demanding a high price for their sports network. Directv and Cox aren't evil for (apparently) balking at the high price. This is strictly business, and while there are real consequences for individual users like you and me, trying to assess blame in this high stakes game of chicken is a ridiculous affair. You have your rights as a consumer, and if your provider doesn't pick up the channel, you have the right to switch. By the same token, if you want no part of TWC, you have other methods of survival. Find a sportsbar. Listen to the radio. There are nearly 30 nationally televised Lakers games this year. You have the power of choice, and you can make it with your wallet.
And the folks booing TWC at every opportunity whenever a promo came up during Lakers preseason contests? Can you please try to be just a little bit less naive? I'm sorry, do you like having Steve Nash as your point guard and Dwight Howard as your center? If you honestly think there is no connection between 2012-2013 being the first season that the Lakers will be on TWC and the Lakers pulling off a couple of stunning trades for their new stars (especially Nash), I really don't know what to tell you. Those trades put the Lakers so far above the luxury tax the next couple of seasons, the Monopoly guy thinks they are being gaudy. Where do you think the money for that kind of wanton spending comes from? From the ginormous TV deal the Lakers just signed, that's where.
Now TWC is trying to reap the rewards from their audacious move in signing the Lakers as the filet mignon of their new sports network. They paid a shit-ton of money to get the Lakers on their network. In an attempt to turn a profit (of unknown size) on said network, they have set a price that some other providers are deeming too steep to accept it as part of a basic package. I have no idea if TWC is being unreasonable in their asking price. I have no idea if Directv and Cox are being silly and misleading in attempt to keep their profits maximized. It wouldn't surprise me if both were the case, because that's how business works.
What I do know is that when companies at the negotiating table start airing their dirty laundry to the public, it does not bode well for the positive resolution of said negotiations. And if Directv and Cox, the 2nd and 3rd largest TV distributors in Los Angeles (TWC is the largest) are both publicly discussing Sportsnet as something they cannot abide without being able to slate it in their packages where they see fit, one has to wonder if the other, smaller distributors might also be in the same boat.
Put it all together, and one of the greatest collections of basketball talent the world has ever seen might just spend the majority of their season not being seen by many of their most devoted fans. As things stand, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, we're all going to lose.