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Time Warner Cable signs two Lakers deals as clock ticks

Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest displays a Lakers logo haircut during their NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angele
Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest displays a Lakers logo haircut during their NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angele

By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) - Time Warner Cable, under pressure to sign TV distributors to cover the costs of its deal to carry Los Angeles Lakers games, reached agreements with Charter Communications and Verizon four days before the basketball team's first home game, the companies said on Friday.

"Charter is the first provider of this brand new programming in our service areas, and we know that the addition of these networks especially pleases our customers in Southern California," said Allan Singer, Charter's senior vice president of programming.

Time Warner Cable also said late on Friday that its month-old Time Warner Cable SportsNet and companion Spanish-language sports channel Time Warner Cable Deportes had agreed to terms with Verizon's Fios TV service. The cable operator said details would be announced in the coming days.

Los Angeles-area cable and satellite operators had balked at paying the average monthly fee of $3.95 per subscriber it was charging for the two regional sports networks, which will air local broadcasts of the National Basketball Association's Lakers and Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.

Time Warner Cable needs distributor fees to help pay for the contract it reached with the Lakers in February 2011. Barclays analyst James Ratcliffe has estimated that the local broadcasting rights will cost about $2 billion over 20 years.

Until Friday's agreements, the only fans able to watch local broadcasts of new Lakers stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were the 2 million who subscribe to Time Warner Cable and subscribers of the small Bright House Networks in Bakersfield, Calif.

Verizon has about 461,000 pay TV subscribers in the Los Angeles market while Charter has about 292,000, according to data from SNL Kagan.

Besides Charter, Time Warner Cable needs to sign contracts with satellite broadcasters DirecTV and Dish Network and with Cox Cable to carry 53 of the Lakers' 82 games carried by Time Warner Cable. The rest are national games that will be telecast by ESPN, TNT and ABC.

On October 24, Cox, which has 1.2 million subscribers in Southern California, said it was rebuffed in its offer to carry the two channels on a specialty tier that would offer a portion of its customers other sports channels.

"We are committed to meeting the needs of all Cox customers, not just sports fans," Cox said in a statement. "The price for the Lakers is one of the highest wholesale prices that we have seen."

(Reporting by Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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