Viewers may soon have choice of 2 new all-sports channels


By year's end, there may be two, count 'em, two heavyweight all-sports news and information cable channels for the voracious viewer, provided, of course, his system has the capacity to carry them.

You already know about the planned CNN-Sports Illustrated joint venture -- CNN/SI -- that is scheduled to be launched this December, combining the resources of the nation's biggest weekly sports magazine and the first all-news cable channel.

However, a report in the current issue of Inside Media magazine indicates that CNN/SI may not have the field to itself, and may be beaten to the punch.

The magazine reports that ESPN may launch ESPN3 as early as October into 5-10 million homes as a "pre-emptive strike" against CNN/SI. An ESPN spokeswoman said yesterday that the network has been "evaluating additional opportunities" that included an all-sports news service but added that no decisions have been made.

ESPN3, the spokeswoman pointed out, has been discussed since before ESPN2 was launched in October 1993. A CNN spokesman said the network would have no comment on any ESPN moves until they are announced.

The formation of ESPN3 would be one of the early skirmishes between two media giants, Time-Warner, which owns SI and is in the process of purchasing Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN, and Disney, which now controls ESPN.

The enormity of the two corporations, and the success of their respective products, make ESPN3 and CNN/SI attractive, but, with many cable systems filled to capacity, one wonders if most sports fans will get a chance to see either or both within the first year of their launches.

The ratings game

Millions of American moms ate their Mother's Day dinners with not so attentive kids the other day, if the weekend's Nielsen overnight basketball and hockey ratings are to be believed.

Though two of the three NBA tripleheader games Sunday brought in lower ratings than contests airing in the same time slot a year ago, the third game, Chicago-New York, drew a 13.9 rating and 28 share, up from the 12.2/26 for the Orlando-Chicago game from last year. For the weekend, NBC's five games averaged a 9.3/24, a 4 percent rise from an 8.9/23 from last year.

Fox's NHL coverage on Sunday, meanwhile, drew a 3.5/8 national overnight rating, a 94 percent jump from the 1.8/5 for the same week last year, and was the network's most-watched Sunday afternoon hockey game ever.

On a completely different front, ESPN is trumpeting the fact that its overall baseball ratings, through the first six weeks, are up 20 percent from last year. Its Wednesday night doubleheader game ratings are up 13 percent for the early contest and 50 percent for the late game.

Lighten up, guys

There was a predictable overreaction across the country in last weekend's baseball columns to published comments of Fox Sports president David Hill, who pledged to fire any baseball announcer who made reference to "dead guys" during its telecasts.

Hill, a blunt-speaking Australian native, may have offended the sensibilities of baseball purists, but his point is dead-on: A generation of youthful potential baseball enthusiasts is looking elsewhere for sports enjoyment and baseball offers them nothing if it continues to cling to the past.

The network has dug up cans of movie newsreels dating back to 1919 filled with footage of those "dead guys," which Fox intends to digitize, computerize and catalog into clips that can be called up during games, so that kids, and their parents, can place into context the accomplishments of today's players.

The hoop scoop

The Turner networks will split tonight's NBA playoff coverage, with TNT taking Game 5 of the Knicks-Bulls series at 8 o'clock and TBS carrying the fifth meeting between Utah and San Antonio at 9. The Atlanta Braves-Pittsburgh Pirates game will air on tape delay on TBS at 11: 30 after basketball.

Joining the nest

The Orioles yesterday announced the hiring of Michael Lehr to head up their marketing and broadcasting operations.

Lehr, 33, had performed similar duties for the Cleveland Indians BTC and was responsible for negotiating the team's radio and television rights, supervising its radio network as well as creating team-oriented programming for TV, radio and inside Jacobs Field.

Lehr, who also previously worked for SportsChannel Ohio and Prime Cable of Chicago, has won two Cable ACE awards as well as a local Emmy for his work on the Indians television network.

Pub Date: 5/14/96

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