Charging HTS premium basically system's choiceI'm not...

RADIO-TV

July 10, 1992|By RAY FRAGER

Charging HTS premium basically system's choice

I'm not quite sure what it was that got me hooked. Maybe it was that commercial. You know, the one with Sting. He kept singing, "I want my, I want my, I want my HTS."

So, my household enjoys all that Home Team Sports has to offer -- baseball from every angle (next up: the Sunflower Seed Cam), the superior elocution of hockey analyst Craig Laughlin, the all-around entertainment skills of "Washington Post Sports Talk" host George Solomon (this generation's Sammy Davis Jr.).

But I pay extra each month for the privilege of viewing John Lowenstein's string ties (look for them the next time the Rangers are in town). It's not so bad. It's summer; the kids don't really need shoes right now.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. HTS is on about 250 cable systems from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. About a dozen of those systems -- bunched around Baltimore and Washington -- offer HTS as a premium channel. For everyone else, HTS is part of the basic package, like ESPN, CNN, TNN, A&E, BET, TBS, TNT, ASAP, FYI, COD, M-O-U-S-E.

It isn't HTS' call. ("We're a wholesaler," HTS spokesman Scott Broyles said.) Companies such as United Artists in Baltimore, Comcast in Baltimore and Harford counties, Storer in Howard County and Prestige in Carroll County have decided it makes financial sense to have those who want HTS pay for it (in Baltimore County, for example, the service costs $15.99 a month).

"We have felt it was a premium service," said Robert Gunther, Comcast of Baltimore County spokesman, "and we offered it that way in order to keep costs down of basic."

Right now, you're asking yourself: What does the cost of basic cable have to do with this? (Unless you're asking yourself: Is that Frager's real hair or just a very bad toupee?)

Here's how it works: Every channel that a cable system carries costs a system money. With some channels, such as Home Box Office, the cable systems must charge subscribers. With other channels, those that carry commercials, local systems can recoup some of the charge by selling local advertising.

Therefore, your monthly bill covers some of the cable company's costs for programming. If a cable system adds HTS as a basic service, it's likely that the cost will be passed along eventually.

"The companies that do add HTS to basic service raise their basic price," Gunther said.

In my case, then, other subscribers would be helping subsidize my HTS viewing. Sounds good to me.

HTS tries to convince cable companies that it's good for them, too.

"The argument we use is to say they can bring in advertising," said Michael Ortman, HTS director of marketing and affiliate sales. It's easier to get advertising if HTS' reach isn't limited by extra charges.

"When we started eight-nine years ago, we told everyone we were a pay service," Ortman said. "We quickly saw that this limited our commercial potential, because we weren't in every home."

Two systems in Anne Arundel County, North Arundel in April 1990 and Jones Cable in April 1991, switched HTS from pay to basic. And there is reason for hope among other HTS fans who would like smaller cable bills. HTS is engaged in discussions with United of Baltimore and Comcast of Baltimore County. So,who knows, maybe your neighbors soon might be subsidizing you.

OC Or maybe the kids can get another year out of those snow boots.

The butler did it

Remember how Billy Crystal's character in "When Harry Met Sally . . . " would read a book by turning to the last page first? Was that guy producing Saturday's Wimbledon telecast for NBC? Before showing a tape of the Andre Agassi-John McEnroe final, NBC gave -- without warning -- the score. Some people like a little suspense, even on tape.

Can we fluff your pillow?

The boss asked me to order the Olympics TripleCast for him. As a staunch opponent of pay-per-view, I am against the TripleCast on principle. But the boss was very nice, promising not to fire me for a week if I did this. So I called the TripleCast people at 1-800-555-PLEASEBUY.

"Hello, Olympics TripleCast, can I help you?" a voice answered.

"Yes, I'd like to order the TripleCast," I said.

"Really? [Muffled sound of someone yelling: 'Hey, somebody is ordering']" the voice said.

"Yes, the deluxe package," I said.

"No kidding?" the voice said. "You know, we've added to that. Now, you not only get three channels 24 hours a day, but you also get an autographed picture of Don Criqui, an NBC blazer, an all-expenses-paid trip to New York for the David Letterman show and, if you'd like, we'll reschedule any Olympic event to suit your schedule."

Wow. The boss will be proud.

Things my boss wants to know

How many tablecloths in London are bare because Bud Collins needed material for pants? . . . Is anti-Japan feeling keeping Godzilla off ESPN's "Monster Truck Challenge"? . . . Does Levi's Dockers present ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" because most sportswriters think of Dockers as formal wear?

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