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Volume 24 No. 156

Sports Media

     A NewSport "State of the Sport" feature will focus on "Men's
Gymnastics -- Sport in Crisis," a half-hour special premiering
Saturday, December 24 at 12:30.  It will look at the sport's
possible elimination as an NCAA sanctioned event
(NewSport)....Liberty Sports' new sports news show, "Press Box,"
can be seen January 1 across the country.  "Press Box" will be a
national sports show with regional updates (Liberty
Sports)....The Canadian government, looking for ways to protect
their recording and magazine industries, will include a punitive
tax on U.S. magazines, including Canadian issues of Sports
Illustrated (N.Y. TIMES, 12/22).

     NBC is upset with WBZ-TV, the network's Boston affiliate,
for failing to switch to the beginning of the Dolphins-Colts 4pm
game last Sunday after the Patriots beat the Bills.  WBZ instead
ran "Fifth Quarter," a Patriots- sponsored wrap-up show, for over
17 minutes before switching to the game in progress.  NBC Sports
spokesperson Ed Markey: "They violated the contract.  We pay $868
million (over four seasons) for pro football and they do an a la
carte menu on us."  It apparently won't happen this Saturday
after WBZ parent company, Westinghouse, "agreed to commit in
writing" to carry the entire Pats-Bears and Chiefs-Raiders games
this weekend.  "Fifth Quarter" has run for 12 Sundays and is
largely advertiser-driven, with part of the revenue going to the
Patriots.  WBZ switches its affiliation to CBS on January 2, with
WHDH picking up NBC and any potential Patriot playoff games (Jack
Craig, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/22).

     NBC and HBO retained their rights to televise Wimbledon
yesterday, signing a five-year deal worth an estimated $26M-$28M
a year.  The rights fees signify a 44% increase above the
previous deal.  HBO Sports President Seth Abraham: "It's a
critical deal because we have so few sports franchises." Fox
dropped out of the bidding when Wimbledon officials changed the
deal from a six-year to a five-year contract.  Fox Sports Dir of
Communications Vince Wladika said his network needed the extra
year to rebuild sagging ratings and balance expected early-year
losses with more profit.  NBC President Dick Ebersol:  "It's a
good deal, and if tennis comes back, it'll be a terrific deal."
Fox Sports President David Hill:  "We wish NBC and HBO all the
best with the event. ... But can you imagine what we would have
had to come up with to make Wimbledon sexy?" (Richard Sandomir,
N.Y. TIMES, 12/22).  Wladika:  "We declined to bid on five years
because we thought it would take six years to turn Wimbledon
around."  NBC's Wimbledon ratings have declined by 20% in the
last five years (Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 12/22).

     "In a deal that solidifies the ties between the most
powerful players in cable television and computing," cable
operator TCI said that it has invested $125M to acquire a 20%
stake in Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming on-line network.  "The
agreement is likely to hasten efforts by Microsoft and other on-
line vendors to offer their services via high-capacity cable TV
lines -- and puts TCI in the forefront of the cable industry's
efforts to move into new, computer-oriented information
businesses," writes Amy Harmon in the L.A. TIMES.  Through its
Liberty Media affiliate, TCI may also provide programming for The
Microsoft Network.  Analysts say with the expected development of
"broad-band" on-line services, information and entertainment
producers "may be quicker to develop products for the on-line
medium, and for Microsoft in particular" (L.A. TIMES, 12/22).
TCI officials stress their role will essentially be as "passive"
investors.  They note that TCI intends to carry other on-line
services over their cable once the technology is available (Paul
Farhi, WASHINGTON POST, 12/22).  Microsoft's Bill Gates and TCI's
John Malone are described as "two tycoons who aim to dominate the
future information highway" (Carlton & Zachary, WALL STREET
JOURNAL, 12/22).