Ironically, or maybe un-ironically, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable, now owned by Charter Communications), is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ exclusive game content distributor via Sports Net LA. Spectrum finds itself in the same position as traditional cable providers before streamers like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and others arrived; stuck in an old way of thinking, unwilling to change and losing millions of customers along the way. The story is long and has heartbreak for fans as many missed Vin Scully’s last season in the booth and other memories since the deal $8.3 billion deal was signed in 2013.
Currently, DirectTV, Spectrum’s competitor, does not provide the channel to its customers after losing the bid to Spectrum’s former namesake to pay to broadcast Dodger games. Dodger fans are still without the diverse viewing capability, while the organization celebrates its 60th year in Los Angeles and 127th overall. What is the solution?
It is simple, really; cut out the middle man and go streaming. First, the Dodgers stand to lose nothing as they already have guaranteed money pursuant to their underlying agreement with Spectrum. The Dodgers should be pushing, if they are not already, for all fans to have access (or at least better options) to view all games.
Second, Spectrum loses nothing by bringing in other partners. Rhetorically, if Hulu can stream NHL games, YouTube TV can stream LAFC and Seattle Sounders soccer games, Amazon Prime NFL Football (for no charge to Prime customers) and a host of social media platforms including Facebook Live, Snapchat and Twitter, what is preventing Spectrum from doing the same? Spectrum owns the Dodgers broadcast as they purchased it on a 25-year deal. Spectrum increases viewership and potentially more sponsorship dollars by hosting on other platforms. Furthermore, cable subscribers have been decreasing, while viewers are falling in love with content now and everywhere via the streamers. Without change, it is the Dodgers’ “Blue” elephant in the room.
Interestingly enough, the streamer Hulu could have played a huge role. Imagine Dodger fans being able to watch all Dodger games on Hulu for $7.99 a month, while cutting their cable cord. However, and this is where it gets confusing, Time Warner Cable, not to be confused with the Time Warner that just sold to AT&T in the $85 billion-approved merger deal, owns a 10% non-voting stake in Hulu. Time Warner Cable was sold to Charter Communications (without the Hulu stake), which also owns Spectrum, the exclusive broadcaster for Dodger games. Comcast and Charter also just entered into a mobile operating platform partnership, while Comcast has its own 30% voting stake in Hulu.
Lastly, Comcast just placed a bid for $65 billion to purchase some of Fox’s assets, including its 30% stake in Hulu. Counting that up, there is 70% of Hulu in control of one to two companies that would be primed to broadcast Dodger games as a spectacular get and a first for the Hulu platform. Spectrum would potentially get back the customers it lost to cord-cutting through Hulu. By the way, Spectrum launched Spectrum TV Stream (a smaller version of Hulu) in 2017 and guess what content was missing from it? Dodger broadcasts. There is no word on whether the mobile platform partnership between Comcast and Charter will include Dodger broadcasts, but again a prime opportunity is being wasted without some mobile, streaming, and/or social media options being added for the local fan base/audience.
It has been stated before, but the renegotiation or expansion of the current agreement starts and fails (at least for the viewers) in the lack of diversity of distributors and furthermore in the lack of a streamer or streamers beings included. Spectrum gains financially by reaching more viewers and advertisers/sponsors. Although the Dodgers have little to no leverage (having sold the rights in 2013 before streamers were gaining traction into sports), the Dodgers gain in reputation and access by adding a significant portion of the Southern California population by to it viewing audience.
Reportedly, the Dodgers have placed pressure on Spectrum to reach more fans. Some deals have made that possible by Charter/Spectrum purchasing smaller cable providers, but not to the extent fans expect or what could be possible via a streamer, mobile, or social media giant. Spectrum cannot solve the Dodgers problem by adding more cable providers. That is the old way of thinking and it has proved itself not to work. Spectrum needs a streaming partner and Hulu might be a great place to start.