ESPN2 pops 50-mil mark

NEW YORK — ESPN2 certified its status as one of the fastest-growing networks in the history of cable by passing the 50-million subscriber mark less than four years after it started beaming its signal to cable systems.

Most industry analysts chalk up the network’s zooming growth to owner ABC’s artful use of the federal law called retransmission consent. That law allowed ABC to threaten cable operators throughout the U.S. with removal of the local ABC-owned TV station unless the cable system agreed to give the network a position on the dial for its spinoff channel ESPN2.

Cable operators called these networks ransom channels, but ESPN2 secured a stellar 10-million-subscriber launch almost from the opening gun, as did Fox’s FX and NBC’s A.T. (America’s Talking). A.T. ended up morphing into MSNBC.

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