Friday, March 10, 2006

Tribe and DirecTV Standoff

We almost missed this one in today's Roger Brown column in the Plain Dealer, primarily because we were preoccupied with the WTAM situation.

Brown quotes DirecTV executive vice president Dan Fawcett, saying it's "unlikely" the nation's biggest satellite provider will come to an agreement with Cleveland Indians-owned SportsTime Ohio before Opening Day to air the 130 cable/satellite Indians games. This had kind of been hinted for some time, but it's the first public statement from the satellite TV giant.

And like other providers who have balked at the STO offering, Fawcett cites the STO financial terms, which he says would "effectively double" previous terms to carry the games on former Tribe cable outlet FOX Sports Net Ohio.

On the other side, that "our product is worth it line in the sand" is still there for STO chief Jim Liberatore. He tells Brown he's about ready to unveil a number of cable contracts that'd cover over a million subscribers. If we had to guess, Adelphia cable would be in that group, judging from the subscriber number he gives. Adelphia is by far the largest cable provider north of the Ohio Turnpike.

UPDATE: SportsTime Ohio has now put up a pull-down list on its website of what appears to be every major and minor multichannel TV provider in its Ohio territory, and it's pretty easy to tell which agreements are likely to be announced soon.

We've gone through each system, and only the following systems show that they "fully expect an agreement soon": Adelphia, Comcast, Cox, Buckeye Cablesystem (Toledo) and Buckeye's Erie County Cablevision sister system. That phrase next to Cox is interesting, since Cox is the driving force behind the website, which is still up as of this writing.

For systems that are not in the "fully expect an agreement" category, including DirecTV, Dish Network and other providers not listed above, STO "helpfully" provides a phone number to call them.

The systems already carrying STO have channels listed, and oddly enough, Time Warner Cable Northeast Ohio lists cable channel 23, the local programming channel that also carries such programs as WKYC's Akron/Canton News. Doylestown Cable is also listed as an STO system, and we don't recall the cable TV arm of Doylestown Telephone as a signup for the network.

Liberatore believes he has a bargaining chip with those apparently-soon-to-be-done contracts, saying DirecTV will lose some ground to stand on complaining about the rates STO is asking for.

But there's one missing part there, assuming our assumptions are correct about Adelphia. The Adelphia deal, whenever it's completed, would be for less than half a season. Adelphia and Comcast's local operations will be likely absorbed into existing STO partner Time Warner Cable, roughly around June 1st or so (approximately). That's about two month's worth of Indians games, plus whatever spring training games show up.

So, even if the terms are a multiple of whatever FOX Sports Net Ohio has been charging Adelphia, it means basically nothing, since there won't be an Adelphia to pay either FSN Ohio or SportsTime Ohio least after about June or so. Adelphia is not negotiating a long-term deal, since STO and the Indians games show up no matter what when Time Warner takes official control of the service (and local Comcast systems).

It will, though, still give Liberatore some leverage. He'll at least be able to say that DirecTV folks can sign up for cable in most of the region.

The other problem with a lack of a DirecTV deal - Indians fans nationwide who depend on the "Extra Innings" feed to keep track of their hometown team won't be able to see any STO broadcasts until a deal is reached. DirecTV says it'll only be able to feed the other team's TV broadcast without those Cleveland rights.

On a personal note, a relative of your Primary Editorial Voice is a big Indians fan, and a subscriber to DirecTV who's used to watching many Indians games at night. We're sure he wasn't happy to read this in Roger Brown's column, and we suspect he's the kind of person Jim Liberatore hopes will call up DirecTV...


Anonymous said...

I'm a DirecTV subscriber and I'm calling Liberatore! I think it's insane that Liberatore thinks he can double his price, hold fans hostage and expect them to call DirecTV and blame them. This is Liberatore's fault, plain and simple. But he's smart enough to know that fans are going to blame DirecTV (or cable companies) when they don't see cames. How very underhanded.

Anonymous said...

What about dish network?

Ohio Media Watch said...

Dish Network, as noted above, is in the "call them" category. You'd have to presume the negotiations for those systems are not anywhere near being completed.

Dish Network holds a pretty hard line on programming costs, and if *DirecTV* is balking at what SportsTime Ohio is asking for, Dish must be positively beside themselves. I would not be terribly surprised if we didn't see an STO/Dish agreement at all this year.

Dish Network did not carry the new Washington Nationals' regional network Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) last year, and there's no indication they'll sign up for 2006.

(If you think "STO" is a bad acronym for a regional sports network, how about "MASN"? It sounds like a disease!)