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Kobe Doin' (Net)work

2/16/2011 1:49 AM

Time Warner Cable is jumping into the regional sports network game in LA in a big way with a pair of Lakers-centric channels, one in English and a dedicated service for Latinos.

Those networks, tipping off with the 2012-13 NBA season, are unnamed for now. But hey, why not try on the Kobe Khannel — at least for the short term? More on that in a moment.

The rights tag is supposedly some $3 billion over 20 years, a price too steep for incumbents Fox Sports West (home games) and KCAL (away contests). Their exclusive negotiating windows expired, enabling Time Warner Cable to swoop to the hoop, so to speak, and pick up all local Lakers rights. Those entities have aired Lakers contests in the market since 1985 and the 1970s, respectively.

For those without a calculator, that’s $150 million on average, which should help Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and daughter Jeanie and son Jim easily foot the payroll bill and secure lots of top talent and free agents (say hello to Superman Dwight Howard) for a generation to come.

Those rights fees aside, Time Warner Cable will have to invest many millions more in start-up and production costs, and incur additional fees to program the services.

But with the Lakers’ TV territory extending to southern California, Nevada and Hawaii, some 6.5 million households are in play. To simplify matters, let’s multiply that by, say, a $2 per monthly subscriber fee and that’s $156 million annually. (Of course, one could argue TWC, or at least its customers, are paying the money to itself.) That says nothing of the advertising/sponsorship dollars, or the additional license fees the Hispanic network may command.

Maybe the math isn’t so manic after all. At least, it’s in the Staples Center, er, ballpark, where the operator can establish value for its new business and/or absorb a bit of fiscal hit on the club’s rights and make up any deficit on its other video goods and services. Or maybe, TWC adds the Dodgers, whose contract with Fox’s Prime Ticket ends after the 2013 MLB season and…we’re getting ahead of things here.

Now, for the part about Kobe doing work.

Time Warner Cable could get an assist if the Purple and Gold do the right thing and raise another championship banner this season giving Phil Jackson a fourth, three-peat retirement gift and more importantly drawing the Lakers even with their nemesis, the Boston Celtics, with 17 NBA championships apiece. A title would also tie Bryant with Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with six rings as the top NBA leaders/winners this side of Bill Russell.

Thus, if the team were to win this season, and the labor dispute air balls the 2011-12 campaign, TWC would be sitting pretty, heading into the network’s rookie campaign. Better still, a squad other than Boston collects the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2010-11, and the Lakers then reclaim the crown next season, knotting their nemesis in terms of titles, as Kobe squares ring things with His Airness and the Sky Hook Master. Either way, the TWC affiliate team can pitch the club and Kobe looking to do record work during the nets’ rookie year.

Speaking of No. 24, I wonder if Bryant has any rights since he’s the documentary’s subject, or could help the MSO get a discount on the Spike Lee Joint Kobe Doin’ Work to bolster its programming lineup. Time Warner Cable officials said that consumers have a very strong appetite for all things Lakers and that the RSNs will produce news and magazine shows around the team, as well as SoCal lifestyle fare.

The MSO also will contact the NBA about gaining rights to Lakers classics. Figure Bryant’s 81-point outburst against Toronto will be on the list, plus a host of vintage victories past (like the New York Yankees on the YES Network, expect the Lakers to go undefeated on the RSNs, so a lot of their battles against Boston won’t need to be excavated from David Stern’s vault).

Here are a few other programming suggestions: secure the syndicated rights to E!’s latest Kardashian spinoff Khloe and Lamar (Odom, the club’s sixth man supreme); yoga and philosophy show, The Zen Master’s Way (working title); the miniseries Big Chief Triangle’s Triumphs; docuseries Vanessa’s Vanity; and telefilms, League Logo and Magic and Big Game James Play Two On One (never mind).

All kidding aside, checking out Time Warner Cable taking a new RSN duo to other distributors’ home courts — notably Cox, Charter, DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse — certainly will be an interesting watch in its own right.

April