US: DirecTV fights antitrust suit over Dodgers Channel

DirecTV says it refused to pay top dollar for Time Warner Cable’s Los Angeles Dodgers channel because it had been “burned” earlier overpaying to air Lakers games, not because it was conspiring with others to get an edge on a competitor.

That’s the defense the biggest US satellite-TV provider, now part of AT&T, will use when it asks a judge to throw out a Justice Department lawsuit accusing it of scheming with competitors in 2014 to gain an advantage over Time Warner Cable in licensing negotiations.

The government says DirecTV was the ringleader of a conspiracy among Los Angeles-area distributors that left about 70 percent of pay-TV subscribers in the second-largest US media market without access to Dodgers games in 2014.

That was two years before Time Warner Cable was acquired by Charter Communications Inc.. That deal made it the LA-area provider of Dodgers games, and hundreds of thousands of fans still lack access to live game broadcasts, the Justice Department said. Charter said in a statement that it doesn’t expect any other pay-TV distributors to carry SportsNet LA by opening day of baseball season this year.

DirecTV offers a more benign explanation for why no LA pay-TV provider picked up the channel of the local Major League Baseball franchise: “TWC’s exorbitant prices and bargaining intransigence.” Having paid a premium to carry Time Warner Cable’s Lakers channel only to see the National Basketball Association team’s performance and ratings tank, DirecTV resolved not to make the same mistake with the Dodgers channel, the company said in a court filing.

The case in Los Angeles federal court is playing out at a delicate time for AT&T, which is trying in Washington to win permission to buy Time Warner. President Donald Trump wasn’t shy about voicing opposition to the deal during his campaign and, since taking office, he’s said to have privately told people he still opposes it. AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015.

Full Content: Bloomberg

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