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ARE ESPN EXECS READY TO HEAR AN EARFUL FROM CABLE OPERATORS?
Published May 1, 1998
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).