It's official now: Time Warner Cable will tip off its two regional sports networks, centering on the Los Angeles Lakers, on Oct. 1.
The largest MSO in Los Angeles will bow Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Spanish-language RSN Time Warner Cable Deportes, which will have its own production team and programming sensibilities, shortly before the National Basketball Association begins its 2012-13 season, according to Time Warner Cable Sports president David Rone.
The foundation for the services was established in February 2011, when Time Warner Cable secured local rights to the Lakers -- whose games have been televised by Fox Sports West and KCAL-TV -- for a 20-year period in a deal that is reportedly valued at $3 billion. Since then, Time Warner Cable Sports also gained rights to the defending Major League Soccer champion Los Angeles Galaxy and the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.
Rone, in an interview, said Time Warner Cable counts some 2 million customers in the RSNs' territory that extends from "Fresno to the north, the Mexican border to the south, east to Palm Springs and Las Vegas, and Hawaii to the west." All told, those areas encompass some 6 million TV homes.
Rone said that he, senior vice president and general manager of Time Warner Cable Sports Regional Networks Mark Shuken and Dan Finnerty, the senior vice president of Time Warner Cable Sports, who heads affiliate sales, recently began discussions with potential distributors.
"We have not had many of them, they literally began last week. In between now and the NCTA Cable Show [which starts May 21 in Boston}, we will have gotten in front of all of the MVPDs that we need to speak to. I'm stressing MVPDs because we're speaking to MSOs, satellite companies and telcos."
Rone would not discuss pricing. Published reports have placed the ask at $3.50 per subscriber for the pair of networks. For his part, ISI Group analyst Vijay Jayant pegs the price at $2.50 per month per subscriber.
A former executive at Fox Sports, CAA and Evolution Media Capital, Rone did say Time Warner Cable Sports' distribution game plan calls for equal footing for the services.
"The offering is both networks together for a simultaneous launch, equal distribution penetration, one price. So there is no decoupling opportunity for the MVPDs," he said. "We share with the [MVPDs] the premium foundational content that we have, which is the Lakers and the Galaxy and the Sparks. We're creating this first-ever tailored product for the Hispanic marketplace here in California. Marrying those two things together, there is no better match because the makeup of southern California is so rich in the Latino community and the fact that we're creating a tailored offering specifically for them. We hope that's going to resonate."
The MSO's sports outfit has retained a mix of familiar and new on-air game and news personalities, including Lakers broadcasters Stu Lantz and Bill Macdonald on Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Adrian Garcia Marquez and Francisco Pinto on Time Warner Cable Deportes. Also on the talent roster: studio host Andy Adler, formerly of KNBC and WNYW, who will anchor nightly studio programming from the networks' new state-of-the-art technical facility; and Heidi Watney, former reporter for the Boston Red Sox and NESN. She will report on and interview teams, athletes and fans while on-the-scene.
Linear presentaions aside, both networks will feature live in-market game streaming to personal computers and mobile devices, and an integrated interactive social media experience catering to the sports community. Landing pages for websites www.twcsportsnet.com and www.twcdeportes.com were expected to launch today.
With 35 people currently on board, Time Warner Cable Sports is in the process of hiring and expects to have some 120 staffers in place for the two RSNs by the end of August.
Rone said filming is underway for ancillary programming tied to the Galaxy and Sparks -- the teams' games have been sublicensed to LA-area stations this season prior to the RSNs' launch.
Consumer marketing, though, has not yet commenced because Time Warner Cable Sports doesn't officially acquire the Lakers rights until after the club finishes its 2011-12 NBA season. Given the lockout, the last possible date for the 2012 Finals is June 26.
"From your lips to God's ear," said Rone about the prospects of the Lakers possibly winning their 17th NBA title.