TBS BRAVES A SKED

Programs baseball though switch pending

NEW YORK — TBS sent out a fax on Tuesday listing the schedule of 125 Atlanta Braves games it plans to cover this season, but the biggest news is what was left out of the press release.

Turner executives acknowledge that they’re trying to reach an agreement with Major League Baseball that would allow TBS to shed its identity as a superstation and change into a basic-cable network on June 30, 1997 (Daily Variety, March 3). The new identity could enrich TBS by as much as $100 million a year in new revenue within 20 months, if the channel can make the transformation on schedule.

But the changeover of TBS is dependent on the approval of MLB and of the two networks that own the national cable rights to baseball, ESPN and Rupert Murdoch’s FX.

A big hole

TBS wants to cablecast from 90 to 100 Braves games a year because the network’s parent company, Time Warner, owns the team, and coming up with more than 200 hours of replacement programming such as movies and TV series from March through September would be a stretch. And Braves games have a certain cachet: The team has finished first in its division the last five years in a row.

But ESPN and FX would be happy if the Braves disappeared from TBS’ schedule so that — at least in theory — ESPN’s Wednesday and Sunday games and FX’s Monday games would get a boost in the Nielsens. And it doesn’t help TBS’ cause that Ted Turner, vice chairman of Time Warner, and Murdoch have become bitter enemies.

Talking compromise

Despite these obstacles, TBS execs say they’re still talking with MLB about a compromise in the number of Braves games that TBS could run as a basic-cable network.

One insider says TBS had to release the 125-game schedule now to meet the listing deadlines of TV Guide and the Sunday supplements. The Braves schedule is not carved in stone, this source says, adding that a last-minute deal could allow TBS to transform itself on June 30.

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