Collusion and Deceit In Sports Broadcasting Faces Legal Scrutiny

The fiasco that has been SportsNetLA and the stealing of LA Dodgers’ baseball broadcasts from the airwaves for three seasons has now finally been given the scrutiny it has long needed, and the result is a federal lawsuit brought by the United States Dept. of Justice against DirectTV and additional industry giants AT&T, Cox Communications and Charter Communications for collusion and other illegal conduct in refusing to carry the TimeWarner/LA Dodgers’ joint broadcasting venture.

For three seasons, few Southern California residents – for the first one and two-thirds seasons well over 70% of the potential viewing audience – who did not live within the City

of Los Angeles had any access to the new network. Within the City of LA, joint venturer Time Warner Cable has had a monopoly on cable TV service, but outside of the City, virtually no one had access to their system. Then in late 2015, Charter Cable announced it’s intention to purchase TIme Warner Cable, and added SprotsNetLA to its system, providing access to the sports network to another 10% or so of the area’s population. Thus, for the end of the 2015 season and continuing throughout 2016 and to now, still over 60% of potential Dodgers’ TV viewers remain locked out of access to games.

Over the past three years, sports writers, sports broadcasters, numerous politicians and others have made it clear that this is unacceptable, to no avail. And now we know why: According to the lawsuit Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Jonathan Sallet of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, there is good reason for this, that the four telecommunication giants colluded with each other, agreeing among themselves to not even have a pretext of negotiation, let alone actual interest in, adding SportsNetLA and the Dodgers’ games to their cable and satellite systems. Said Sallet:

“Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DirecTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to watch their hometown team”

The Justice Department case is built in part through a trail of emails, text messages and phone calls between executives of AT&T, one of the largest pay-TV operators in the Los Angeles region with 1.25 million customers, and the other industry giants, who were largely thought until now to be competitors and not co-conspirators. Further, it appears that animosity and refusal to negotiate in good faith between the cable and satellite providers and Time Warner Cable goes back to a similar earlier experience when the LA Lakers formed their own TV network and began selling access to the giant distributors of

TV programing in Southern Cal. Loss of subscribers let to a swift capitulation to the Lakers’ demands, but having “learned” from that experience, AT&T and the Pips were not so fast to come around, this time devising their scheme to use collusion as leverage against the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable.

One thing missing from all this and from, it would seem, Justice Department scrutiny, is the fact that the same thing has happened over an even longer period with the PAC-12 Network. That semi-exclusive provider of Pacific 12 Conference Sports, including NCAA Football and Basketball including the games of UCLA, usc, Stanford University, Cal, the University of Washington and the rest, has similarly locked out tens of millions of fans from seeing broadcasts of PAC-12 games across the Conference’s four states for four years now. When will THAT similarly ridiculous situation be addressed?

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