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Volume 24 No. 117


Time Warner Cable signed a 20-year rights deal with the Lakers that will lead to the creation of two new regional sports networks in the L.A. market next year. Time Warner Cable will fully own the two new RSNs -- one in English and one in Spanish. The RSNs will have the rights to pre-, regular- and postseason Lakers games starting with the '12-13 season. Fox, which already operates FS West and Prime Ticket in L.A., had been negotiating to keep the Lakers’ rights on FS West, and sources familiar with the Lakers' proposal to Fox indicated that the team was looking for a $3B, 20-year deal, which averages out to $150M per year. The Lakers' exclusive negotiating window with FSN, which carries Lakers games on FS West, lapsed at the end of December; the club's exclusive negotiating window with local broadcaster KCAL-CBS, which carries 41 games, ceased at the end of September. FSN VP/PR Chris Bellitti released a statement yesterday saying, "Fox made an offer to the Lakers that would have paid them one of the highest local TV rights fees in professional sports. We did not believe that going higher was in the best interest of our business or pay TV customers in Los Angeles, who will bear the cost of this deal for years to come." Because of the popularity of the Lakers, many of their games are picked up by national broadcasters. ESPN has the right to carry up to 10 Lakers games on its net and six on ABC, and it generally has used most of those over the past several years. TNT can show the Lakers up to nine times during the regular season (John Ourand, THE DAILY). In L.A., Joe Flint cites sources as saying that under their deal with FS West, the Lakers were "getting about $30 million a year in rights fees." A KCAL spokesperson said that the loss of the Lakers "will not stop the channel from making 'local sports a big part of the station's identity'" (L.A. TIMES, 2/15).  

CHANGING CHANNELS : Lakers Senior VP/Business Operations Tim Harris said that the team "had been engaging in conversations with KCAL and Fox while remaining open to other possibilities." Harris: "When we had our first discussions with the Time Warner folks, the thing that really kept driving us forward, there was this synergy, and the best way I could describe it is ... more Lakers." Time Warner Cable Exec VP & Chief Programming Officer Melinda Witmer said, "This was a quick romance." The dedicated Spanish-language RSN is a "first in U.S. broadcasting, a development that Lakers owner Jerry Buss said he was 'particularly proud' of" (, 2/14). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Umstead & Reynolds wrote the deal is a "major regional sports network coup" for TWC. Lakers home games have been airing on cable since '85, while KCAL "has been televising the club's road games since the 1970s" (, 2/14). Witmer said, "Our experience is that Time Warner has a large footprint and the bulk of basketball fans through the country get their sports through a cable regional sports network" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/15).

MORE THAN JUST LAKERS CONTENT: TWC execs said they will be scouting other content for the channels eventually. Witmer said, "We're not in conversations with anybody right now. We'll be looking at all manner of sports that will be of interest to consumers in this marketplace, as well as other content and some lifestyle programming." The Dodgers' local rights deal ends in '13; the Angels' deal runs another six or seven years (Ourand). ESPN L.A.'s Dave McMenamin noted TWC's RSNs "will feature an expansive amount of Lakers content, but will not exclusively broadcast programming related to the purple and gold like" the Yankees' YES Network. Witmer said that the channels "will broadcast a nightly Lakers news magazine show as well as develop and create both original and historical Lakers programming." The nets will be available to "all satellite, cable and telco distributors in the Lakers' territory, which includes all of Southern California, Nevada and Hawaii" (, 2/14).

NEW OPTION FOR DODGERS: The L.A. TIMES' Flint reported next on TWC's "wish list could be the Dodgers." According to court documents in his ongoing divorce trial, Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt had "intended to launch cable channels dubbed 'DTV: Dodger Television' in English and Spanish." Dodgers VP/PR & Broadcasting Josh Rawitch "declined to comment on how Monday's news might affect those plans" (L.A. TIMES, 2/15). Two sports industry consultants said that "what the Dodgers might have lost in financial upside could be somewhat mitigated with the newfound leverage of more sports channels in town." In L.A., Bill Shaikin noted McCourt "still could pursue DTV, although local cable and satellite operators might balk at adding a Dodgers-themed channel, since subscribers might balk at paying for DTV, the Lakers channels," FS West and FS Prime Ticket. But the Lakers "provided McCourt with additional leverage." Until yesterday, the Dodgers could say to Fox, "If you don't offer us enough money to renew our deal, we'll start our own channel." Now the Dodgers can say to Fox, "If you don't offer us enough, we can start our own channel or move our games to the Lakers channel" (, 2/14).    

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.

The IOC indicated today that a U.S. broadcasting rights deal for “two or four Olympic Games," starting with the '14 Sochi Olympics, "should be sealed by July,” according to Karolos Grohmann of REUTERS. IOC Finance Commission Chair Richard Carrion said, "I suspect we will have a deal in place by (the IOC session in July) in Durban." The U.S. deal is the IOC's “single biggest revenue source with the 2010-2012 contract with NBC netting about $2 billion for the IOC." It also is the "biggest single deal with one company for sports TV rights.” Carrion said that he “expected the new deal to top that figure.” Grohmann notes it is unclear “whether the new agreement would be the standard two-Games package (one winter and one summer Games) or if it will be a four-Games deal stretching” to ‘20. Carrion said that the IOC “would go into the upcoming negotiations and let the broadcasters" choose the length of the deal. A four-Games deal “would be worth at least $4 billion given the last of the four Olympics will be in nine years' time.” Carrion “ruled out a surprise bid by new media companies and expected only traditional major U.S. broadcasters to take part.” He added that the broadcaster “who bought the rights would handle any Internet interest in their territory for the Olympics” (REUTERS, 2/15).

Sports Illustrated is "projecting a 41 percent increase in revenue this year from its iconic Swimsuit franchise, with the total boosted significantly by an array of new digital extensions," according to Eric Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Specific financial figures were not disclosed, but the print magazine, being released today, "will be joined by a return of an iPhone application that saw more than 1 million downloads last year, new iPad and Android applications, a new model selection show on DirecTV that was to debut last Friday, and a partnership with Sony to bring Swimsuit video in both 2-D and 3-D through the PlayStation Network and Sony's Qriocity video-on-demand service." Overall, SI "will gain 55 percent of its Swimsuit revenue from print advertising, 30 percent from digital content sales and advertising, and 15 percent from experiential and event marketing." Time Inc. Sports Group President Mark Ford: "Swimsuit in a lot of ways is the test pilot in pushing SI in new directions. There's also a case to be made that Swimsuit is truly the original multiplatform program in the publishing world. The digital opportunities are absolutely great, but being on TV is also a big, important step for us" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/14 issue). In Sacramento, Scott Lebar notes the Swimsuit Issue is SI's "biggest seller," as it "generates 7 percent of the magazine's annual revenue and now is a successful multimedia enterprise with video, social media, iPhone and Android apps, 3D video with Sony, and increased star wattage" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 2/15).

THE ORIGINAL: SI Group Editor Terry McDonell said the Swimsuit Issue has been "imitated a lot," and "that trend continues." McDonell: "Most of the imitations of it have sort of a leering quality that SI Swimsuit does not. It remains a celebration of athletic bodies and good health." When asked if he was referring to ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, McDonell said, "Not necessarily. That's not exactly the same. I'm thinking about some of the laddie magazines and men's magazines that now do swimsuit issues. There's 13 international editions of SI Swimsuit. That makes this an event with great reach. Everywhere I've ever been since I have been at Sports Illustrated, I have been asked about Swimsuit" (, 2/14).

CBS' "Late Show" unveils SI Swimsuit Issue
cover during last night's broadcast
AND THE COVER GOES TO...: Irina Shayk was announced as the cover model of this year’s SI Swimsuit Issue during a presentation on CBS’ “Late Show” last night. A billboard presented by Nissan Juke with an image of Shayk’s cover on 53rd Street and Broadway was unveiled during the show. Prior to the cover model announcement, CBS' David Letterman said, "It's a big, big deal. The circulation of the magazine, they go from a couple million annually, and then when they have the swimsuit issue it jumps to a billion. ... That's just how important it is." Ten swimsuit models were waiting backstage for the unveiling of the billboard, and CBS’ David Letterman said, "I don't even want to do this because I don't want to disappoint anyone in that room. ... Oh, I can't do it. I just don't want to disappoint. I mean, all my life I've disappointed women. It's kind of my thing." Letterman later said, "I failed to announce that the other women who did not make the cover will lose their subscriptions to the magazine.” The models also read the Top Ten list on stage during the taping (“Late Show,” CBS, 2/14). Shayk appeared on NBC's "Today" show this morning to promote her cover appearance, while several other SI models were on CBS' "The Early Show" (THE DAILY).

MLS yesterday formally announced a new six-year broadcast rights agreement making TSN the league's official Canadian partner. TSN and TSN2 will combine to broadcast 24 games live during the '11 season, all involving at least one of MLS' two Canadian franchises: Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Beginning next year, when the Montreal Impact join MLS, TSN and TSN2 will air 30 regular-season MLS games featuring at least one Canadian club. TSN also receives broadcast rights for the MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup. In addition, TSN's sister network RDS owns French-language broadcast rights in Canada in anticipation of the Impact's expansion season (MLS). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Etan Vlessing noted the CBC and Rogers Sportsnet, who previously owned national MLS rights in Canada, will "still have a chance to bid on local rights" in Canada for games this coming season. But an MLS spokesperson said TSN has "first priority" to select games during the six-year term of the agreement. The MLS deal is "only the latest from TSN after the cable sports channel snagged the rights to the Tour de France pro cycling race in July, and the exclusive local rights" to the '12 and '16 Euro Cups (, 2/14).

Former Washington Post reporter Len Shapiro beginning tomorrow will join Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic as a regular contributor to its two websites -- and Shapiro retired from the Post in December. "As soon as he left the Post, we called to see if he was interested," said Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic Senior VP & GM Rebecca Schulte. Shapiro joins a digital operation that recently hired former Baltimore Sun journalist Ray Frager as digital media managing editor, former Sun columnist John Eisenberg and former Washington Times reporter Ryan O'Halloran. It also bought blogs written by Mark Zuckerman and Rich Tandler. "We have a lot of years of journalism experience," Schulte said, adding that she is looking to add even more columnists. Many also appear on the linear TV station. The RSN says saw a 310% increase in unique visitors in the fourth quarter of '10.

USA Today MLB writer Bob Nightengale on his Twitter account yesterday reported MLB Network analyst Barry Larkin "has joined the ESPN studios," leaving MLB Net (, 2/14). Larkin took a role with MLB Net "shortly before it launched" in January '09 (AP, 2/14). He will have a studio role with ESPN (THE DAILY). 

NO SPIKE IN INTEREST: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wonders "what the meeting was like at MSG when the brainiacs decided to give" director Spike Lee a microphone during the net's telecast of Friday's Lakers-Knicks game. MSG officials might have "thought putting him on in the second quarter during one of the biggest games of the season actually would not be a distraction," or they might have "thought Lee could bring eyeballs to the tube." But Raissman adds, "If that's the case, they were wrong -- on both counts. Lee did distract. And, as it turned out, things quickly went downhill for the Knicks during -- and after -- his appearance." The broadcast "would have been better served if Lee appeared in the second half" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/15).

ENCOURAGING SIGNS: Fox earned a 4.5 fast-national Nielsen rating and 7.8 million viewers for Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Shootout. While the rating is up 2.3%, viewership was off 4.7% from last year's telecast. The race gave Fox a win for the night among all nets (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes that Fox also earned a 1.9 overnight rating for Daytona 500 qualifying on Sunday afternoon, up 19%. Hiestand writes these are "very early TV returns," but after the "ratings drop in recent seasons ... NASCAR really needs TV upturns" (USA TODAY, 2/15).

LIVE FROM THE HOF: In Charlotte, Mark Washburn reports Speed's "NASCAR Performance," a "motor sports gear-head show," will move to the NASCAR HOF, "enabling it to have studio audiences." Weekly shows "will be taped beginning Feb. 21 in the Hall of Fame's Great Hall" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/15).