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Sports Fans Are Irked : Cable TV Outlet Criticized for Dropping Prime Ticket

September 22, 1988|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Local cable TV viewers made it clear that they want to be able to see Magic Johnson's mad dashes up the court or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's famous sky hooks when the Lakers play at home.

Several viewers criticized the local cable operator, Simmons Cable TV, for dropping the Prime Ticket channel that showed the Lakers' home games and other local sporting events.

"This town is loaded with furious people since they dropped that channel," one TV sports fan told the City Council at a hearing this week on cable service.

Simmons has provided cable TV to the city for three years.

Difficult to Reach Firm

Although the loss of Prime Ticket drew the most criticism from the 15 viewers who spoke at the hearing, some also complained that it was difficult to reach the company by phone on weekends. Others said the company frequently inserted commercials into programs at the worst possible moments, failed to respond properly to service calls and gave inaccurate program information on the air.

A few viewers praised the service. Sid Solomon of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved said he is an avid watcher and especially appreciates the coverage of local government. Even a few of the complainers admitted that they have generally been satisfied.

The City Council finally suggested to assembled Simmons executives that they would be wise to implement suggestions they had heard from viewers. The council, however, was told by its legal counsel that, other than canceling the franchise agreement, it has little direct power to control programming or order improvements.

Simmons' president and general manager, Frank McNellis, said after the hearing that he plans to follow up on viewer and council suggestions to improve service.

McNellis said the Prime Ticket channel was offered for two years but was dropped in February after Prime Ticket refused to allow Simmons to offer the channel as an option, rather than as basic service.

He said that Prime Ticket is expensive and that subscribers would have to pay more to receive it. He hopes to reopen negotiations with new management at Prime Ticket to try to return the service.

Interruptions Decried

Long Beach resident Bob Zeller complained that Simmons repeatedly interrupted a stock car race to air commercials. Ads also interrupted a recent Notre Dame football game during a crucial play.

McNellis said that faulty equipment had automatically inserted the commercials into the program and that the equipment is being removed.

McNellis also said service outages have been reduced and the number of subscribers has increased from 38,500 to 55,000 in three years.

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