ESPN2 takes a big step forward with growth in information base

Media Watch

February 28, 1996|By MILTON KENT

Since it signed on 2 1/2 years ago, ESPN2 has been playing the frisky teen-ager to its corporate big brother ESPN's more mature college senior.

But, with this week's announcement of new blocks of news programming and an ever widening subscriber base, there are signs that the "Deuce" is indeed growing up.

The network has announced that by the end of this week, it will be available in more than 30 million homes nationwide -- making it the first of the cable channels launched in the 1990s to reach that figure.

As a part of its maturation process, ESPN2 will add two informational blocks over the next four months, to join already existing nightly shows chronicling the NBA, the NHL and auto racing.

On Friday, the "Bottom Line2," will make its debut on the network, with the latest scores and news running across the bottom of the screen weekdays from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and from 1 to 7 p.m. on weekends from information culled from SportsTicker, which is 80 percent owned by ESPN.

The new service will present NFL, NBA, NHL and major-league baseball updates, as well as scores from all Division I college football and men's basketball games, and Top 25 women's basketball scores, along with breaking news.

The network promises to send pro scores along every 10-15 minutes in the midst of a block of college results, with a red dot next to the winning team. College scores will be alphabetized by home team, and partial scores will list the period or quarter the game is in with the time remaining.

In July, ESPN2 will introduce a yet-to-be named sports news block to run from 1 to 6 p.m. each weekday, with the first hour being live and repeated over the next four hours, like the overnight "SportsCenter" on ESPN.

The network envisions the new show not as a replacement for the way-too-hip "SportsNight" that died last July, but as a complement to "SportsCenter" and an outlet to air major news conferences live, with the chance to insert live updates as they are necessary.

The cynical among us will notice that both of these moves appear to be responses to CNN-related efforts, like the continuous sports ticker that appears in the evening on Headline News, and the announcement two weeks ago that the Turner-owned all-news channel will start a 24-hour sports news franchise in conjunction with Sports Illustrated.

Not so, said ESPN spokeswoman Diane Lamb, who said plans for the afternoon news block have been in the works long before the CNN/SI venture was announced.

And, if you owned an all-sports network, as well as a service that spits out scores all day, wouldn't you hook up the two of them? That only seems like the prudent, mature thing to do.

Roll out the signage

Our friends at Fox, which will begin a five-year dance with baseball starting in June, are out trying to sell ads for those rolling signs that are all the rage at NBA arenas, according to Inside Media magazine.

Fox officials declined to comment officially on the report, but Bill Stetka, an Orioles spokesman, confirmed that representatives of Dorna, the company that makes the signs that rotate on a periodic basis, visited team officials this week to bring the machines to Baltimore.

Stetka said the team had "no plans at the present time" to bring the signage to Camden Yards, saying their presence "would take away from the integrity of the ballpark."

Still, 18 of 28 teams have the signage, positioned either behind home plate, a la Detroit, or up the first or third base lines, and it would be foolish to think that, given the money they can generate, the signs won't find a home in all parks in the future.

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