Fox/TCI may put squeeze on HTS Angelos, Pollin discuss move to new channel

August 01, 1996|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Bullets and Capitals, have held talks with Fox and TCI, the nation's largest cable TV operator, about creating a new regional cable channel that would either supplant or cripple Home Team Sports.

The two owners, whose teams occupy the majority of programming on HTS, would take their teams' games to a channel operated by TCI and Fox.

Bethesda-based HTS, which has carried Orioles games since its inception in 1984, would have the right to match the Fox/TCI offer under the terms of its contracts with the three clubs. The Orioles deal expires after the current season; the Bullets/Capitals pact with HTS already has expired.

However, sources familiar with the proposal say that if the offer is matched by HTS, Fox and TCI would seek to buy HTS from its majority owner, Westinghouse, which also owns Channel 13, where the majority of the Orioles' broadcast games air.

Details of the plan remain sketchy, but a local broadcasting source indicated that the Fox/TCI offer is "significantly" higher than the estimated $10.25 million that Westinghouse is paying this year for Orioles television and cable rights. That figure is estimated by Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

Vince Wladika, a Fox Sports spokesman, called reports of the deal "speculation" and declined further comment.

Ted Ewanciw, an HTS spokesman, said, "We are aware that other parties are attempting to secure these teams' rights. To my knowledge, there's nothing finalized, so I can't speculate further."

Marcellus Alexander, vice president and general manager of Channel 13, said the station was "evaluating our position and plan to proceed in a manner that makes the most sense for our company."

Rumors have floated for months that Angelos, who met with Pollin at his Camden Yards sky box two weeks ago, was interested in starting his own sports channel with the Orioles as its hub.

Pollin, whose teams will move into a new downtown Washington arena, the MCI Center, in the fall of 1997, is said to be looking for new money sources.

Michael Lehr, the Orioles' new director of broadcasting and marketing, declined to comment on the talks, but said the team will not take all its games to a cable outlet.

Matt Williams, a spokesman for the Bullets and Capitals, declined comment.

The proposed deal pits some of the nation's biggest media companies against each other.

Fox -- which in three years has created a sports division that this year will air the Stanley Cup playoffs, World Series and Super Bowl -- and TCI have entered into a complex programming deal. Under this joint venture, the Fox name is stamped on the Prime regional sports channels that TCI owns throughout the country, mostly in the West and Midwest, through its programming arm, Liberty Media.

In exchange, TCI, which owns a 20 percent share of HTS as well as significant shares of Turner Broadcasting, the Discovery Channel, Encore, the Home Shopping Network and Black Entertainment Network, will get a chunk of Fox's international holdings and a piece of its fX cable channel.

The creation of a Baltimore-Washington-based channel would give the Fox/TCI venture a foothold in the highly populated Northeast corridor, and almost would certainly gain it channel placement on cable systems in this area.

Meanwhile, within the last year, Westinghouse has purchased both CBS, one of the traditional Big Three broadcast networks, and Infinity, one of the biggest radio outlets, and certainly could match the Fox/TCI offer. There is some industry speculation that the company would look to get rid of some of its holdings in view of its recent major acquisitions.

HTS is regarded in industry circles as a leader in both programming and technological advances, having received numerous Emmy awards for its Orioles coverage.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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