Going back to basics proves to be ratings winner for HTS


Baltimore sports fans clamored for years for their cable operators to place Home Team Sports on a basic lineup, rather than as a premium channel, and they appear to be taking advantage now that the area's two biggest systems, TCI and Comcast, have complied.

HTS officials report that Orioles ratings are booming in the Baltimore region this season, thanks to the combination of the team's fast start and the more than 300,000 additional homes the channel's signal now appears in.

As an example, last Wednesday night's Orioles-Boston game on HTS did a 10.5 cable rating in the Baltimore area, the highest of the season and third-highest Orioles rating of all time, and virtually double what the Bethesda-based channel was getting for Orioles games at this time last year.

The HTS conversion from premium to basic follows a nationwide trend. According to the current issue of Broadcasting and Cable magazine, cable operators in New York, California, Michigan and New England have moved HTS-like channels affecting nearly 1.7 million subscribers.

Though the operators are understandably reluctant to make the switches, fearing the loss of premium channel fees, the channels have, in most cases, made accommodations to placate the systems.

Considering the number of ads and promos touting Comcast's conversion of HTS, it's a pretty safe bet that the two sides have worked out some kind of mutually beneficial relationship.

By the way, that was a nice first effort put in on Saturday's Orioles pre-game show on Channel 54, with hosts Steve Davis and Bruce Cunningham, though, in the future, they should cut down on the boosterism.

Clearing the pucks

Three cheers for the Washington Capitals, who have made it possible for local cable subscribers to receive coverage of tonight's third game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Caps bought satellite time and will feed the signal of Washington's Channel 50, largely unavailable in the Baltimore area, to local cable providers. Comcast subscribers in Baltimore County can see the game on Channel 43, and Howard County Comcast customers can get the game on Channel 40. Both are usually pay-per-view channels.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City residents can pull in the game on an unannounced channel on the TCI lineup. Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin will have tonight's call.

Cashing in

Tonight's "Outside the Lines" special (ESPN, 7: 30), called "Sports, Inc.," looks at how athletes have become more valuable in their off-field business ventures than for what they make in the arenas and stadiums.

The show reveals that Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Dale Earnhardt each earn in endorsements at least twice what they make as athletes. Jordan, for example, took in $3.9 million with the Bulls in 1995, but made more than $40 million in endorsements.

Grading the draft

Maybe it's because there has been no real reason to watch the NFL draft intently in these parts for 12 years, but it sure seemed that ESPN tried to do a little too much during its two days of coverage.

Almost invariably, when a pick was announced, the viewer would have to be whipped around from New York to Tampa to Dallas to St. Louis to Arizona to Bristol, Conn., and everywhere in between to get superfluous reaction.

The network was so hellbent on covering every possible angle that it missed commissioner Paul Tagliabue announcing the draft's very first pick, which not only put egg on ESPN's face, but no doubt ticked off sports producers across the country who had planned to use the clip on their newscasts.

For next year, besides cutting down on the number of remote sites, ESPN should petition the league to cut down the length of time between first-round picks from a ghastly 15 minutes to 10 or, preferably, five, as the NBA does.

Also, the network would help its coverage significantly by getting the clubs to allow microphones in those "war rooms," so viewers can hear as well as see strategy. To reduce possible opposition from teams that don't want to tip off competitors, the mikes could remain off until that club's turn comes to draft. That certainly would make for better television than we got over the weekend.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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