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FSW2 CATCHES A RIDE

DirecTV adds Fox sports net, 13 other webs

Satcaster DirecTV announced Thursday it will add Fox Sports West 2 to its lineup March 28 as part of a 14-channel expansion that answers rival Primestar’s planned 60-plus channel addition.

The deal with DirecTV brings the distribution-starved Fox Sports West 2 nearly 2.4 million subscribers in a single shot after logging fewer than 400,000 cable homes since its Jan. 27 launch. That startup has been plagued by bad blood from cable operators and lawsuits flying back and forth involving the Walt Disney Co.

DirecTV subscribers who purchase at minimum a $29.99 channel package will receive Fox Sports West 2.

Cable pact near

FSW2 will now have more than 2.7 million subs. According to an industry source, the regional sports service is in advanced talks to be carried by Primestar to that satcaster’s base of more than 1.7 million customers. A pact with major operator Falcon Cable is also said to be near.

However, Southern California’s two largest systems operators, Century and Continental, remain holdouts, as does TCI. As recently as last week, none of the three was even in talks over FSW2.

Many cablers have been angered by what they perceive to be an attempt by Fox Sports West 2 to extort a second hefty monthly subscriber fee. The channel includes game telecasts of the Clippers and Mighty Ducks (both of which were moved from Fox Sports West) as well as Dodgers baseball.

The Disney-owned Mighty Ducks filed suit against Fox to force FSW2 to return the team’s hockey games to FSW1. Disney has already lost the first two rounds in court, however. Fox Sports Net, meanwhile, turned around and sued Disney, ESPN, the Mighty Ducks and unnamed cable operators, charging that they have conspired to keep FSW2 from wider carriage.

Opening the floodgates

Privately, Fox Sports West 2 officials are confident that the DirecTV commitment will open the floodgates and drive operators who have thus far been reticent to negotiate back to the negotiating table. Not that there is necessarily much wiggle room in the 70¢-per-subscriber fee being charged to carry FSW2.

The April 1 start of baseball season and the exclusive Dodgercasts supply a further incentive.

As for the rest of the DirecTV deal, six of the new networks being added — the TV Food Network, QVC, Chicago’s WGN, Animal Planet, Trinity Broadcasting Network and the American Movie Classics spinoff Romance Classics — had previously been confirmed (Daily Variety, Feb. 28).

All of the above services, except QVC, will be added April 10, as will two additional Starz! movie channels, an additional Encore movie channel, Fox Sports Midwest, Sports Channel Florida and Fox Sports Arizona.

QVC goes onto DirecTV beginning Monday, while Fox Sports West 2 joins March 28, four days before it airs the first of 40 planned Dodger telecasts this season.

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