New ABC chief Bornstein puts focus on ESPN programming

Media Watch

April 16, 1996|By Milton Kent

Television programmers aren't much different from the athletes they broadcast, except for a few inches of height and some muscle.

For instance, when you ask Steve Bornstein, the president and CEO of ESPN and soon-to-be head of ABC Sports, what he's going to do with his new plaything, he pipes up, "I want to go to Disney World," just like Emmitt Smith or Hakeem Olajuwon.

However, since Bornstein's companies are now Walt Disney property and his ascension to the presidency of ABC Sports was at the Mouse's call, his declaration, though joking, is quite appropriate.

Bornstein was named last week to replace Dennis Swanson, who was not so gently nudged into retirement. The new man was understandably coy in a brief phone interview yesterday about the future of ABC Sports, except to say that the two entities will be distinct and different.

But only to a point. After the $19 billion purchase of ABC/Capital Cities last July, Disney chairman Michael Eisner took great pains to point to ESPN, which is 80 percent owned by ABC, as a definite prize of the sale.

It shouldn't take Kreskin to see that Disney, which owns the Anaheim NHL franchise and will soon own a portion of the California Angels, wants to get into sports in a major way, and looks at the combined might of ESPN and ABC Sports as yet another vehicle through which to spread its tentacles.

"ABC Sports are the best brand names in sports television, and the ability to program them together, acquire product together and promote together is very appealing. That's where you'll see the majority of the initial effort concentrated," said Bornstein, who took over at ESPN 5 1/2 years ago.

A unified ABC/ESPN behemoth, backed with Disney's dollars and reputation, almost certainly wouldn't have allowed NBC to snare five Olympics packages over the next 12 years, as it did last fall, but should challenge NBC and Turner strongly for the broadcast and cable rights to the NBA when they come available after the 1997-98 season.

Good Masters ratings

Sunday's final-round collapse by Greg Norman apparently made for compelling television, as the national Nielsen overnight ratings indicate.

The fourth round drew a 9.6 rating and 21 share in the 33-city Nielsen overnight survey for CBS, the highest overnight golf number since 1990, with particularly strong performances in Minneapolis; Boston; Hartford, Conn.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Tampa, Fla. Baltimore did a 7.9/17.

By the way, on the subject of Norman, his post-tournament news conference and subsequent interviews ought to be required viewing as a lesson to all athletes on how to deal with the media after a traumatic event.

Unlike many of his professional athlete brethren, who would rather get a root canal than talk to the media after a tough loss, Norman dealt with each question with grace and humor and stayed to handle every query. Things may not have gone well on the golf course for Norman on Sunday, but he was a big winner in the grand scheme of things.

The second season on ice

ESPN and ESPN2 launch their NHL playoff coverage, which could include as many as 61 games, tonight at 7: 30 with Eastern Conference games on each network. On ESPN, the New York Rangers are host to the Montreal Canadiens with Gary Thorne, Bill Clement and Al Morganti, while the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on the Deuce, with Tom Mees and Darren Pang on the call.

Also, be on the lookout throughout the playoffs for a series of promos that tell the hockey story through the perspective of the wives, daughters, sisters and fiancees of the players in a campaign directed by actress Mary Stuart Masterson, who appeared in the film "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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