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Fox will begin meetings today with its affils in L.A. and discuss a plan to have affils help defray the cost of the network's $4.4B NFL deal, according to Rich Katz of DAILY VARIETY. Fox had sent a letter that "outlined contributions it expects from its stations," which included a plan in which the affils "would return 15 spots per week to the network, beginning July 1." The plan would require stations to "return money due from retransmission consent agreements expiring next year." Beginning July 1, Fox would also "give back to affiliates three spots that were removed from local inventory under the NFL agreement that expired in January. Money from these spots, sold locally, would go to the network, except for a 15% agency commission and 8% local sales commission." Fox said it would also "increase" the number of affils' pre-game inventory to 13 spots, from 11, but "all the commissions would go to the network" (DAILY VARIETY, 6/4). In related news, at the ABC affils meeting in Orlando, DAILY VARIETY reports that "progress has been made" in talks where stations would "contribute" about $30M to help ABC cover its new NFL contract." A deal is expected in "a few weeks at the earliest" (DAILY VARIETY, 6/4).
ESPN's ratings for the first quarter of '98 "plunged," according to Scott Hettrick of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, who writes that the decline of ESPN's nightly 11:00pm ET "SportsCenter" is "most alarming." Nielsen Media Research reported that "SportsCenter" lost 106,000 viewers -- more than 11% of its audience -- from '97's first quarter. The show's average viewership now stands at 841,000. Hettrick writes that while it's "not directly attributable" to ESPN's ratings decline, "Fox Sports News" has gained 132,000 viewers from '97's fourth quarter and "appears to be making an impact" on ESPN. "Fox Sports News" is averaging 311,000 viewers per night, and its ratings have gone up 34% in L.A. and 17% in N.Y. Hettrick also cites the departure of former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann as another possible factor in "SportsCenter"'s ratings decline (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 6/4). BIG PICTURE: ESPN's primetime viewership in the first quarter of '98 "dropped" 18% to 1.055 million, down from 1.286 million a year ago. Hettrick writes that what is "worse" is that ESPN's "explanation for the slide doesn't bode well for a turnaround," as a network spokesperson cited "more competition in sports programming and sports networks, greater fragmentation of the TV audience through digital cable and satellite services and more options in general for the male viewing audience ... None of which is likely to decrease in ESPN's favor." Hettrick adds that the ratings decline "couldn't come at a worse time" for ESPN, which is looking to sell a 20-22.5% rate increase on cable operators to cover its $4.8B NFL deal (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 6/4).
FROM CANADA: In Toronto, William Houston reports that the "key reason" for the delay in the Maple Leafs signing a cable rights deal "has been an impasse between Molson Breweries and the Leafs." Molson, which is "desperate" to stay in hockey after losing "Hockey Night In Canada," wants a long-term deal, while the Leafs want a short-term contract. In other news, Houston reports that CTV Sports Net (CTVSN) has acquired the rights to NBA basketball, alpine World Cup skiing and 12 World Curling Tour events. The NBA package includes 10 playoff games next year and a "minimum" of 14 playoff games from 2000-2002. CTVSN will also align with CTV's Outdoor Life Network for three years, to air 32 World Cup races (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 6/4). OTHER NOTES: USA TODAY's Harry Blauvelt profiles The Golf Channel (TGC) and writes that the network is "expected to attain profitability this year," and is on track to have 25 million subscribers by year's end. The average age of TGC's viewer is 45, with men comprising 73% of the audience. The average viewer household income is $60,000 (USA TODAY, 6/4)....BSkyB and the new Scottish Premier League said they have agreed to a four-year deal worth $74M to air live soccer from Scotland beginning in August (REUTERS, 6/4).
For the first time in the NBA Finals, Web users can control robotic cameras in the Delta and United Centers' to choose their viewing options on NBA.com, according to Steve Fidel of the DESERET NEWS. NBA.com has positioned eight "tiny cameras" just above and behind the bank of network TV cameras at the Delta Center, and will do the same at the United Center -- a set-up which the NBA refers to as NBA.cam. Web users can click on NBA.cam to view the different camera shots, and Fidel wrote that the performance of the cameras depend on the number of Web users who are accessing the image. If a camera is idle, a fan can control it directly, but if they are busy, the system "will return a picture another fan may have selected a few seconds to a few minutes earlier." The NBA tested NBA.cam at the All-Star Game with two cameras (Steve Fidel, DESERET NEWS, 6/3). The link for NBA.cam in located on NBA.com's main page. WORLDWIDE EVENT: The NBA said that media credentials have been issued to 237 international journalists from 38 countries for the NBA Finals. When the Bulls won their first title in '91, there were 51 international credentials issued, representing 11 countries. In Boston, Peter May: "Sounds like commissioner David Stern's globalization policy is working quite nicely" (Peter May, BOSTON GLOBE, 6/4).