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New Z Channel Set to Carry Baseball Beginning April 3

March 25, 1988|Larry Stewart

On Jan. 12 came word that a new sports and movie pay-cable channel would begin operating in the Los Angeles area in April and would carry 35 home Dodger games and 35 home Angel games.

Since then, the people involved in this project, which began as joint venture between American Cablesystems and Philadelphia-based Spectacor, have been working without much fanfare toward a target date of April 3, the day of the final Freeway Series game.

Initially, the new company called itself American Spectacor, but after merging with the Santa Monica-based Z Channel in late January, it became simply the new Z Channel.

Spearheading the project is Spectacor, which is owned by the Ed Snider family of Philadelphia, and Joseph M. Cohen, who founded the Madison Square Garden network and the USA cable network.

Spectacor owns the Spectrum in Philadelphia and the Flyers and, in 1976, started PRISM, a Philadelphia sports and movie pay-cable channel which it sold in 1983.

Z Channel, since the merger, has been increasing its subscriber base and, according to Cohen, will be available to more than a million of the L.A. market's 4.6 million homes by April 1. Before the merger, Z Channel was available to 619,000 homes.

Z Channel now costs about $12 or $13 a month on most systems. The new Z Channel, offering both movies and baseball, probably will cost only a dollar or two more per month. The price will vary from system to system.

A promotional campaign will begin this weekend. Some newspaper ads will carry Z Channel's baseball schedule, and others will list the cable companies offering the channel.

Down the road, Z Channel is planning to televise other sports. Negotiations are under way with the Clippers for games next season. Boxing is among the other possibilities.

The Clippers, by the way, signed a new 3-year deal with Channel 5 this week.

Add Z Channel: The endeavor has its skeptics, including Prime Ticket co-owners Jerry Buss and Bill Daniels.

Buss said: "There are normally about 21 baseball games on TV a week. What's the difference between 21 and 23? Not enough to pay extra for."

Daniels said: "If they get really lucky and the Dodgers win the National League pennant and the Angels win the American League pennant, they'll only lose a couple of million."

Cohen said: "I don't count Daniels' money, and I don't think he should count ours."

However, Buss and Daniels, as well as Cohen, downplay the competitiveness between Prime Ticket and Z.

Cohen said: "We aren't in competition with Prime Ticket because we do business differently. We have a different cost structure and a different programming structure."

Cohen said he thought there is room for both services in this market. "We wish them well," he said.

Buss and Daniels said essentially the same thing about Z Channel.

The big difference between the two services is that Prime Ticket, which carries only sports, is offered by cable companies as part of the basic service to subscribers, whereas there is an extra charge for Z Channel.

Prime Ticket and Z Channel executives may say they are not in competition, but they sure are when it comes to acquiring rights.

Prime Ticket would love to have the Dodgers and Angels, and Z Channel would love to have USC and UCLA.

While Cohen was negotiating with the two baseball teams, he was also negotiating with the two universities.

But Prime Ticket won that battle, signing a new multiyear deal with USC and UCLA a little more than a month ago. And instead of simply sending out a press release to announce it, as it probably would have under normal circumstances, Prime Ticket held a press conference at the Forum.

Buss, Daniels, Prime Ticket President Tony Acone, USC Athletic Director Mike McGee and UCLA Athletic Director Pete Dallis were all on hand.

Last add Z: The channel's Angel announcers, as reported earlier, will be Joel Meyers and Joe Torre.

The Dodger announcers will be Tony Hernandez, Channel 2's backup sports anchor who wasn't even considered a candidate a couple of weeks ago, and Rick Monday.

Why Hernandez? Because Jim Lampley, a longtime friend of Cohen, went to bat for his Channel 2 colleague. Also, Cohen was impressed with Hernandez's audition tape.

Don Drysdale was considered a candidate for the play-by-play job at one time, but Cohen said Drysdale's radio commitments to the Dodgers took him out of the running.

Cohen also talked to Steve Garvey about becoming the commentator, but it didn't go much beyond that.

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