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Volume 24 No. 113
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          Cable operators "are stepping up their battle" against
     ESPN's move to raise programming fees 20% to help pay for
     its NFL contract, according to Steve Donohue of ELECTRONIC
     MEDIA.  TCI, TCA Cable TV, Cable ONE, Charter Communications
     and Falcon Cable "have explored the feasibility of moving"
     ESPN from basic or expanded basic carriage to a new,
     separately-priced tier which would also include other sports
     programmers.  TCA Cable TV has had "preliminary internal
     discussions" about placing ESPN, Fox Sports Southwest, The
     Golf Channel and Speedvision in a sports tier.  While such a
     tier "would reduce" operators' ESPN programing costs, "many
     say that contractual and technical issues make it very
     difficult to make a new sports tier a reality."  In
     addition, some MSOs said that ESPN "has rejected ideas" to
     move off of basic service.  But ESPN VP/Affil Relations Sean
     Bratches said that ESPN "hasn't been approached by operators
     requesting a new sports tier," and that the network has
     reached agreements with "well over" 90% of its carriers on
     contract extensions, despite the cost of carrying ESPN
     increasing on August 1 from $.87 a subscriber per month to
     $1.07 per subscriber per month (ELECTRONIC MEDIA, 6/15).