Justice Department Sues AT&T and DirecTV, Claims Companies Had Conspired To Block Dodgers Channel
Like many Angelenos, your memories of the Dodgers may be tied with KTLA and Fox Sports Net, which used to televise the games. I recall turning on channel five to gawk at Gary Sheffield's wagging batting stance, or to watch Shawn Green belt out a few homers.
That changed a couple years ago, however, when Dodgers telecasts were moved to SportsNet LA in 2014. In that deal, Time Warner Cable (TWC), which owns SportsNet LA, and the Dodgers reached an agreement in which the team would exclusively televise the games on the Dodgers' own channel (save for national telecasts). If you weren't a Time Warner subscriber, it meant that you couldn't tune in every weekend to hear Vin Scully wax poetic about beards and hot dogs. This, obviously, got a lot of fans mad.
While much ire has been reserved for Time Warner, it's possible that they're not the only one to have a hand in the situation. As reported at the L.A. Times, the U.S. Department of Justice has sued AT&T and DirecTV (the former now owns the latter), claiming that the companies, along with other entities, had conspired to trade non-public information that, ultimately, led to a mass block-out of the Dodgers channel.
According to the lawsuit, which was obtained by KPCC, TWC began selling licenses in 2014 that would allow the other TV companies to televise the Dodgers channel. No one bought into it, however.
The suit alleges that Daniel York, DirecTV's chief content officer, contacted Cox, Charter, and AT&T, to have a private chat about the companies' thoughts on the licensing rights. The suit says that these "unlawful exchanges were intended to reduce each rival's fear that competitors would carry the Dodgers Channel," and to "enhance" the companies' bargaining leverage with TWC.
This basically means that, if DirecTV had been fearful that, say, Charter was going buy a license to televise the Dodgers games, DirectTV would have been more likely to buy the license as well. The suit goes on to single out DirecTV as having an outsized role in the matter. The Justice Department says that, because DirecTV is the "largest direct competitor" among TV companies in the L.A. area, it's very possible that the other TV companies would have bought into the Dodgers channel if DirecTV had done so.
But, because the other companies knew of DirecTV's intentions, and because DirecTV ultimately refused to make a deal with TWC, the Dodgers channel remained as a TWC exclusive, and many fans ended up with nothing but NASCAR for the weekends.
The trading of information is considered a violation of U.S. anti-trust laws, which are written to prevent practices that "unreasonably deprive consumers of the benefits of competition, resulting in higher prices for products and services."
David McAtee, general counsel at AT&T, responded to the lawsuit by saying that the reason why DirecTV refused the Dodgers channel was because it was too expensive. "The reason why no other major TV provider chose to carry this content was that no one wanted to force all of their customers to pay the inflated prices that Time Warner Cable was demanding for a channel devoted solely to L.A. Dodgers baseball," McAtee said in a statement. "We make our carriage decisions independently, legally and only after thorough negotiations with the content owner."
To this day, the Dodgers channel is still not carried by DirecTV, Cox or AT&T.
According to the Times, the Justice Department is demanding injunctive relief, with perhaps a provision that allows for the monitoring of dealings in the pay-TV industry.
All of this leads us to wonder what could have been if this had been brought up earlier. Like, maybe two years ago? Though, Vin Scully did get to televise his final home games on KTLA, when TWC were kind enough realize that, hey, a lot of people will want to see Vin call his last games. So, not everything is horrible in this world.