Time Warner dodges Fox

Pulls second half of Dodgers season off L.A. system in squabble with sports network

For the second time in two years, Dodgers fans are the losers in a battle between Fox Sports Net and cable operators.

About 450,000 Time Warner Cable subscribers in Southern California could lose Dodgers cable telecasts for the rest of the season as the two companies squabble about subscriber fees. The blackout—as Fox Sports Net has described it in full-page ads in Los Angeles-area newspapers—began June 27 after Time Warner opted not to carry the final 40 games of the Dodgers season.

Time Warner Cable executives similarly balked in 1999 when Fox Sports Net raised the per-subscriber fees to 21 cents per month. However, a deal was reached that time. But Time Warner says it won't pay Fox Sports Net's latest increases. Sources say Fox Sports Net is now demanding 23 cents per month, or a total of $2.76 a year, for every subscriber. All of the other major cable operators in the Los Angeles area have agreed to the price increase.

Two years ago, four cable operators in Southern California refused Fox Sports Net's demands on the increase, including Time Warner. At the last minute in 1999, Time Warner agreed to the price hike. Media One and Charter actually pulled Dodger games off their service for a short period of time.

Time Warner says it's only exercising an option in its contract with Fox Sports Net that lets the cable operator chose whether to carry FSN's programming.

"Fox have every right to offer us the games, and we have every right to refuse," says Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Luftman.

Fox Sports Net executives say they have received more than 10,000 calls in the last week, in response to print, radio and billboard advertisements alerting viewers to Time Warner's decision. The Fox ads have put the onus squarely on Time Warner, with bold statements like "Rolling Blackout? Try Permanent Blackout" and requests for subscribers to call Time Warner to complain.

"Most of the people in the systems that are affected are not interested in seeing those games," Luftman said. "Why should we all have to pay when only a minority want to watch?"

Says Fox Sports Net spokesman Dennis Johnson, "It's not our policy to discuss specific rates, but it would be fair to say that the minimal increase facing Time Warner is the same as what was accepted by all other cable operators. It is just a few pennies more than what Time Warner was OK with in the past two years."

Time Warner executives say they are looking to get this resolved and that discussions are ongoing. Fox Sports Net's Johnson says that his company has been trying to reach a deal with Time Warner since last fall and that "there are no further discussions scheduled."