Southern justice

Court to rule on sports in Turner regional cabler

NEW YORK — Turner Broadcasting will soon learn whether its newest network, Turner South, will be stripped of the professional sports games that were to be an important component of its programming lineup.

Turner hopes to launch the regional entertainment and sports service, targeted to the 6 million cable subscribers that reside in the Southeast, on Oct. 1.

However, Fox Sports Net South — the regional sports web that serves that area — has dragged Turner into court in an attempt to block Turner South from carrying games from the new Atlanta NHL team, the Thrashers, as well as Atlanta Braves baseball and Hawks basketball games (Daily Variety, June 16).

Fox Sports has argued that Turner previously signed an agreement not to compete against the regional sports network’s professional sports programming.

“Sports is what will give them ratings, distribution and ad revenue,” Dan Fawcett, general counsel for Fox Sports network told Daily Variety.

Turner has argued that Thrasher, Hawks and Braves games will make up a minority of Turner’s South’s programming, so the Atlanta-based company is within its rights to televise the games. In addition to sports, Turner South plans to carry movies and original shows that appeal to Southerners.

A Fulton County, Ga., judge has heard both arguments and will make a decision later this week or early next week.

While Turner South will reach only a fraction of the country, industry insiders said that the Time Warner company has high hopes for the new web’s revenue potential.

“Turner has really put a lot of thought and effort into this network,” media consultant Jedd Palmer said.

Turner South is seeking fairly high license fees from cablers in the South, and these fees increase at a faster-than-usual-rate.

The web will cost cablers 15¢ per subscriber per month for the first year. The fee will rise to 20¢ in year two, 25¢ in year three and 30¢ in year four.

These prices will quickly make Turner Sports more expensive than established webs like Lifetime and Fox Family Channel.

Even at these prices, cable ops seem to be interested.

“I like the idea of regional services,” said Frank Hughes, senior VP of programming for the National Cable Television Coop, which negotiates programming deals for many cablers. “It gives us exclusive product, so we can set ourselves apart from DBS.”

Hughes predicted that if the judge rules against Turner Sports, the web will adjust its programming model and pricing to fall within the judge’s decision.

“You can’t deny that having some sports product is going to be a very prominent piece of Turner South’s programming,” media consultant Palmer said. “Sports will give the network a little extra punch.”