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On This Deal, Fox Got Dunked

May 09, 2003|LARRY STEWART

In January, AOL Time Warner, TNT's parent company, agreed to pay $2.2 billion over six years as part of a new television contract with the NBA.

Disney, the parent company of ABC and ESPN, agreed to pay $2.4 billion.

ABC and ESPN got more regular-season games than TNT, 90 to 52, about the same number of playoff games, and the NBA Finals. TNT got Thursday nights exclusively during the regular season, plus more exclusivity during the playoffs.

TNT's exclusivity kicked in after the first round of the playoffs, thus shutting out local carriers Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net through the first four games of the Lakers' series against the San Antonio Spurs.

After televising the first two games at San Antonio, TNT also has Game 3 tonight at Staples Center, which means it will not be televised by Fox Sports Net.

If you prefer Paul Sunderland and Stu Lantz to TNT's Marv Albert, Mike Fratello and Jeff Van Gundy, you'll have to tune into KLAC (570) and mute the TV.

ABC has Game 4 Sunday, and all NBA games on ABC are exclusive.

ESPN's exclusivity doesn't begin until the next round. So if the Lakers' series with San Antonio goes beyond four games and ESPN becomes the national carrier of a game, local carrier Channel 9 or Fox Sports Net can also televise that game.

TNT has all games of the Western Conference finals, whereas ESPN and ABC share coverage of the Eastern Conference finals.

Power Failures

So far, having the Laker-Spur series exclusively hasn't been such a good thing for TNT. There was a power failure during Game 1, and a failure by an NBA power during Game 2.

Rain in San Antonio during Game 1 Monday night drenched a satellite uplink, causing reception problems in various areas around the country. Southern California, in particular, was hit hard.

Some cable subscribers reported outages of only 30 seconds or so during the second half, but others reported 10 to 20 minutes of blank screens -- until commercial time -- or even longer.

TNT added an alternate feed for Game 2 Wednesday night, just in case. However, a lot of viewers in Southern California might have welcomed an outage.

ESPN Targeted

ESPN was at the heart of a debate in Washington this week. At a Senate commerce committee hearing, several senators said that consumers should be given more freedom to pick the channels they want to pay for and singled out ESPN.

By August, after a 20% rate hike, cable operators will be paying as much as $2.40 per subscriber per month. Some of that cost is absorbed by local advertising spots on ESPN, but the rest, estimated at $1 by ESPN, is passed along to consumers.

The argument is, should viewers who don't want ESPN have to pay for it?

What some cable operators want to do is move ESPN to a pay tier, so only those who want ESPN have to pay for it.

James Robbins, CEO of Cox Communications, said, "Less than 20% of our customers are avid sports fans, but sports programming is disproportionately driving up cable prices for everyone."

ESPN, which is opposed to being put on a pay tier because that would adversely affect advertising rates, said in a press release that 108 million people watched ESPN in April, that 97% of Americans are aware of ESPN and 87% of Americans consider themselves sports fans.

George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, said, "Ripping ESPN and other networks out of basic cable and charging more for them is no pro consumer. This would produce a firestorm of protest from cable subscribers. With cable at about $40 and the net cost of ESPN at $1, there is no basis to take this step."

Moving ESPN to a pay tier would certainly not be viewed as a popular move by sports fans.

Murray Honored

TVG's "Trackside Live! Hollywood Park" Saturday on Fox Sports Net 2 will be highlighted by coverage of the $400,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap. Post time is 4:23 p.m. for the race named in honor of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Times columnist.

The race culminates the inaugural Los Angeles Times Sports Workshop. Thirty-one college students are participating in the four-day workshop, with 10 to receive $1,000 scholarships.

Boxing Beat

Boxing's return to network television last weekend was a hit. The fight card on NBC Saturday, the network's first since 1992, got a 2.2 rating in L.A., same as the golf on CBS and almost the same as the Mighty Ducks' playoff game on ABC. The second boxing show in the three-week series, a joint venture by NBC and Telemundo, will be televised from the Pechanga Resort in Temecula on Saturday in two parts. The first part will be on Telemundo, Channel 52, at 11:30 a.m., followed by the second part on NBC at 12:30 p.m.

With Mike Tyson not fighting on the June 21 card at Staples Center, HBO has wisely decided not to make the Lennox Lewis-Kirk Johnson fight pay-per-view.... Al Bernstein, ESPN's longtime boxing commentator, has signed with Showtime. His first assignment for his new employer will be May 17.

Short Waves

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