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Time Warner Cable’s Unsportsmanlike Conduct Could Hinder Comcast Deal

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --  Time Warner Cable (TWC - Get Report) has blacked out LA Dodgers games to pay-TV providers unwilling to agree to a fee more than double what other regional sports networks charge.

The second-largest U.S. cable provider is reportedly charging as much as $3.84 per subscriber per month for access to SportsNet LA (the Dodgers network for which Time Warner Cable secured a 25-year distribution rights deal earlier this year). That price comes in far higher than a maximum $1.84 per subscriber other regional sports networks charge, according to SNL Kagan data. Other providers such as AT&T (T) and DirecTV (DTV) have balked at the high cost to carry the programming.

The move could cause anxiety over the kind of power the company would wield if federal regulators approve its $42.5 billion merger with Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) without compromise.

"It's very likely to weigh on the decision whether to approve the merger or not," S&P Capital IQ senior equity analyst Tuna Amobi told The Street. "It's really not a particularly good time for Time Warner Cable and Comcast because sports programming cost has been a very hot topic."

The Federal Communication Commission's key focus will be on whether a combined company will wield too much power over the industry, resulting in anti-consumer, anti-competitive practices such as has been seen with the Dodgers blackout.

They're "trying to prevent one company from being too big to exert an excessive amount of power in the marketplace so my sense is that this is going to be another potential hurdle to getting a deal through," added Amobi.

Federal regulators could impose restrictions on how a combined company could charge the market and by how much it could raise prices, similar to the pricing constraints imposed on Comcast when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011. 

--Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York. 

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