SBD/1/Sports Media

ARE ESPN EXECS READY TO HEAR AN EARFUL FROM CABLE OPERATORS?

          Cable operators are ready to "vent their frustration"
     to ESPN execs at next week's NCTA Cable '98 Show in Atlanta
     over the net's proposed 20% rate increase following its
     $4.8B NFL deal, according to Scott Hettrick of the HOLLYWOOD
     REPORTER.  Operators "are ready to exact their pound of
     flesh" from ESPN and Disney, and "cite several points of
     leverage at their disposal," including "stonewalling the
     launch" of ESPNEWS, ESPN West, Classic Sports Network, and
     "even" Toon Disney.  Hettrick adds that the "repercussions"
     may even affect the Disney Channel's ongoing efforts to
     convert to a basic service, and that some "major" cable
     companies "have warned ESPN to tread carefully" in the realm
     of rate increases as cable costs "are again drawing the ears
     of legislators."  An ESPN spokesperson said that the net is
     "responding" to the concerns and "has instituted new
     incentives and adjusted packaging discounts," among them
     "flexibility in subscriber count."  ESPN also offers
     discounts for positioning their channels side-by-side and
     for lower channel placement (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 5/1).
          TOO MANY ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD: In Philadelphia, Lynn
     Zinser writes that ESPN is providing its viewers with "such
     a steady diet" of Angels telecasts, "they are close to
     qualifying as a food group."  Although over the years ESPN
     has "done a better job than any other network at maintaining
     its credibility," the net "runs headlong into image
     problems" with its Angels coverage.  Zinser: "[I]t can't
     erase the perception that it's doing Disney's bidding when
     it floods the airwaves with Disney's team."  Fox, which also
     broadcasts MLB games and recently purchased the Dodgers, has
     a "built-in buffer" regarding conflicts of interests,
     because its MLB contract limits any team's number of
     appearances to nine.  Fox Senior VP/Communications Vince
     Wladika: "That's there to prevent us from doing what it
     appears ESPN is doing."  Zinser adds that ESPN "also has a
     limit" on how many times a team can appear, but the net
     "won't say what it is" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/1).  

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