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TWC Elevates Its Game With Rone

5/31/2011 8:01 AM Eastern

With the hiring of David Rone, Time Warner
Cable is looking to step up its game in the sports arena.

Rone, named president of TWC Sports, was most recently
with sports-focused investment banking firm Evolution
Media Capital and has previously held
positions at CAA Sports, Fox and The Walt Disney
Co.

In this newly created position, Rone will lead
the No. 2 cable operator’s efforts to fortify its
position as a sports content provider, working
with sports leagues, conferences, teams, programming
providers and others in the sports
industry to augment TWC’s sports products and
marketing.

He will also have oversight over the company’s
sports programming and nine sports
channels, and will lead TWC’s two new regional
sports networks — including a Spanish-language
service — centering on the Los Angeles
Lakers. Those networks tip off with the NBA’s
2012-13 season. TWC announced in February
that it had reached a 20-year deal with the
famed franchise, with the value of the deal said
to be $3 billion or more.

Rone starts his new gig on June 7 and will
be based in Los Angeles. He’ll report directly
to Melinda Witmer, Time Warner Cable’s executive
vice president and chief video and content officer.

In an interview, Witmer said she began to recognize the
need for a dedicated leader for TWC’s sports interest after
the MSO did a major affiliate deal with The Walt Disney Co.
and ESPN last fall. That relationship has yielded the launch
of college football and basketball scoring/highlight services
ESPN Goal Line and Buzzer Beater, as well as authenticated
TV Everywhere sports fare and the sports network’s
WatchESPN app.

“We struck a comprehensive deal with Disney last September,
with a lot of technological advances. We realized
we needed to have a dedicated person who can work with
ESPN to better serve consumers/sports fans,” she said.
“We need to be able to work more closely with providers
like ESPN to innovate and create new opportunities.”

Witmer said Rone’s first order of business is to build a
team for the Lakers’ network.

“With David, the primary leadership is in place,” Witmer
said. “David will assemble a staff and then we’ll be
off to the races.” She noted that distribution discussions
for the services have not yet taken place.

Witmer dismissed Rone’s hiring as a sign that TWC is
looking to rapidly build its base of regional sports networks,
as the nine extant channels largely present local
college and minor league fare, among other programming.

“The RSNs with the Lakers in L.A. tend to blur the vision
a bit. The Lakers are a great team, great content opportunities,
but that was also a case of wanting to control our
own [economic] destiny in the market,” she said. “David
will work to acquire key content from sports providers, license
content from teams, create new sports opportunities
in our markets.”

That’s not to say there aren’t new networks
on the horizon.

“New channels are coming to us all the
time. We needed a leader to make those evaluations,
and work with our sports content acquisition
team about how does it fit, and works
together for Time Warner Cable,” she said.

Contrary to published reports, one thing
TWC isn’t working on is buying a stake in ESPN’s
Longhorn Network, which will kick off this summer
with sports and academic fare dedicated to
the University of Texas in Austin.

“We have no plans to be an equity player in
the Longhorn Network. There [are distribution]
conversations with our friends at ESPN,”
Witmer said.

An ESPN spokeswoman said the sports programming
giant is in “active discussions with
everybody” about carriage for the service, but
no deals have been reached at this juncture.

Much further west, Oceanic Time Warner
Cable appears to be moving toward starting
its own RSN, covering University of Hawaii
athletics. Over the years, Oceanic has been the primary
rights-holder to the college’s sports squads and has proffered
pay-per-view events, with KFVE, the MyNetworkTV
affiliate in Honolulu, airing and producing much of the
action.

“The University of Hawaii is a work in progress,” Witmer
said. “We’re looking at opportunities on how to proceed.
We’re not really sure about what the time frame is, but it
should be within the next few months.”

 

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