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Cox Weighs Extra Fee for ESPN, Fox Sports

October 07, 2003|From Associated Press

Some cable viewers may have to decide if they are willing to pay extra for ESPN and Fox Sports.

One of the nation's largest cable operators says the sports channels have become too expensive for its basic packages and should be premium content.

Jim Robbins, chief executive of Cox Communications Inc., said his customers were ready to embrace the change -- a change he says he is forced to make because ESPN and Fox Sports combine for 8% of Cox's cable viewers and 32% of its costs.

Cox is the nation's fourth-largest cable operator. The company's contract with Fox Sports expires at the end of the year, and its contract with ESPN runs through the first quarter of 2004.

Though ESPN and Fox executives say they won't allow their content to be put in premium packages, Robbins said cable operators would follow the Cox lead unless the sports channels can "get the costs down."

"The price of ESPN today is more than the top seven-rated [advertising-based] networks combined," he said. "This is one area where we think we have got to take a stand."

Sean Bratches, ESPN's senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing, said its channels would not become premium tier content. "I don't foresee a scenario where we would permit the distribution of ESPN service in a manner Cox is suggesting publicly," Bratches said.

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