SBD/February 15, 2011/Media

Witmer: Lakers Deal Not Inconsistent With Message About Rising Sports Costs

Witmer says TWC's deal with Lakers will not necessarily be duplicated in other markets

Over the past several years, Time Warner Cable Exec VP & Chief Programming Officer Melinda Witmer has been an important voice in the cable industry, talking about the rising cost of sports rights. She said her company's 20-year deal with the Lakers is not inconsistent with that message. "It's always our strategy to make sure we have access to must-have programming for as long as possible," she said. "We want to provide programming to our customers in the best way we can to manage and control our economic destiny." She said the deal is unique to the Lakers and would not necessarily be duplicated in other markets where Time Warner Cable is the dominant cable operator. TWC's new RSNs that will feature the Lakers are so new, they still do not have names or staffs. Witmer said the nets will be made available to all distributors in the L.A. market. "We are seeking to work with all of the distributors to find a reasonable basis to get full distribution of the network," she said. "We want the Lakers to be available to everyone regardless of who their provider is." THE DAILY's John Ourand caught up with Witmer yesterday to discuss some other aspects of the deal.

Q: Why do this deal?
Witmer: This is incredibly important content for consumers. We have an opportunity to secure it for a very long time and to manage our economic future. That was an opportunity that was important to us, but consistent with what we do with all of our providers, whether it's ESPN or anybody else. We're looking to make sure that we've got the content we need and to secure it for a long time.

Q: Isn't it easier to pay for an established RSN, rather than build new channels from scratch?
Witmer: One way or another, Time Warner Cable's going to buy this content. It's content that's critical and important to our consumers. We could buy it from ourselves, or we could buy it from somebody else. This is our best opportunity to secure the content for the long run with some cost certainties to what it would cost us.

Q: Is this a blueprint for what Time Warner will look to do in other markets?
Witmer: It's a little early and a little fresh to call it a blueprint. Right now, there was a unique opportunity with the Lakers.

Q: What experience does Time Warner Cable have with running channels?
Witmer: You certainly are aware of New York 1. We run 34 channels across the country. We are a pretty substantial local and regional programmer. Outside of our investment in SportsNet N.Y., this is the first professional regional sports network that we have been involved in. Other than SNY, this is also the first network that we would make available and sell to other distributors.

Q: What other programming do you produce in the L.A. market?
Witmer: We have a traffic channel. And there is some other local video on demand, like Dodgers On Demand and other content that we've produced locally.

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