Regional networks in prime spot

RADIO-TV

January 08, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

It's a corporate version of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying, "Hey, kids, let's put on a show." Or, in this case, "Hey, kids, let's put on a cable channel."

OK, they're not quite kids. In fact, they are Liberty Sports Inc., a subsidiary of Liberty Media Corp., NBC Cable Holdings Inc. and Rainbow Programming Holdings Inc., an affiliate of Cablevision Systems Corp.

Inc., a dinka dink, a dinka doo, a dinka dee. (First Rooney and Garland, now Durante -- welcome to the Nostalgia Channel.)

What those fun corporations are up to is forming Prime SportsChannel Networks, merging Prime Network and SportsChannel America, two regional sports programmers. Home Team Sports is a Prime Network affiliate and previously was a SportsChannel affiliate.

The merger will result in two ventures, one (Prime Network) carrying sports events and another (SportsChannel America) covering sports news and occasional events.

A new Prime Network will emerge first, said Jeff Ruhe, SportsChannel America's chief operating officer, who will be president of Prime SportsChannel Networks. The new Prime will combine the offerings of Prime Network and SportsChannel for use by regional sports networks around the country.

The sports news service will begin this year, Ruhe said, but no date is set. What will it be like?

"If you start with the idea that we'll be a Headline News of sports, you would be close," Ruhe said.

For the non-cabled among you -- and if you don't have cable, are you just skimming on the way to "Things my boss wants to know"? -- Turner Broadcasting's Headline News Network telecasts news reports in half-hour cycles. But what does this mean for the cabled masses?

First, you might not even notice.

don't think viewers are going to see much of an effect," HTS spokesman Scott Broyles said. "In the short term, the supplementary programming we get from Prime might be expanded."

Then again, you might.

The sports news service could pop up on HTS sometimes, or even as a new channel on your cable system. But, though we keep hearing about the coming day of 500 channels, most cable systems still say they have limited space.

The Comedy Channel, Encore and Cartoon Channel, for example, don't have slots on many systems. (But please, Mr. Cable Operator: I'll give you double what I pay for HTS to get that Cartoon Channel. You ever heard a 3-year-old whine for cartoons when none is to be found?)

This venture has a large difference, though. Two of the partners in Prime SportsChannel Network, Cablevision and Liberty, are among the nation's largest owners of cable systems. Those cable systems, one supposes, will look much more kindly upon the new sports news channel.

"It's a leg up, and we certainly have connections," Ruhe said, "but it's not a guarantee."

However, there is another question: Do cable operators believe subscribers want an around-the-clock version of ESPN's "SportsCenter"?

Do you remember Mizlou Sports News Network? (So many questions. Good thing I buy question marks in bulk.) Probably not, because the short-lived channel didn't show up on many systems before going bust. Don't look for a three-downs-and-out from this venture, though.

"We have a built-in base of 41 million [from the nation's regionasports networks] that could take one or two hours of the news service to start," Ruhe said.

"We think one area of news and information that hasn't been serviced is sports."

ESPN doesn't sound worried.

"We see the regional business as a different business than ours," ESPN president Steve Bornstein said.

Ditka, Ditka everywhere

Maybe it was the way he quoted Sinatra and Scripture in one breath in his farewell address to the media, but fired Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka will be on CBS' and NBC's playoff pre-game shows this weekend. During "The NFL Today" tomorrow (channels 11, 9, 3:30 p.m.) before the Washington Redskins-San Francisco 49ers telecast, Ditka will do a live interview from his home. On Sunday, he'll be in the studio for "NFL Live" (channels 2, 4, 3:30 p.m.) before the San Diego Chargers-Miami Dolphins.

This isn't an audition for a football announcing job, NBC says. However, the network said nothing about whether Ditka would be considered as David Letterman's replacement.

Go ahead, bite the Big Apple

TNT has two New York Knicks games this weekend. Tonight at 8, the Knicks face the Orlando Magic. On Sunday at 8, the Knicks play the Boston Celtics. So Woody and Soon-Yi can stay in this weekend.

By the numbers

A look at the local Nielsen ratings for Dec. 28 through Sunday shows that Baltimore loves its pro football. All NFL games telecast during that period outdrew college football's national championship game, the USF&G Sugar Bowl.

Among those NFL telecasts was the last "Monday Night Football" telecast of the year, meaningless except for the return of 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. In fact, Montana's reappearance drew a bigger audience than both Saturday playoff games.

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