Fox Eyeing Turner South?


With an eye toward grabbing more sports rights for its regional sports network, FSN South, Fox Cable Networks could be nearing a deal with Time Warner Inc. to purchase Turner South.

Turner South, a regional network that offers entertainment programming, also holds long-term rights to Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves, the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers and the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks. Time Warner is also looking to sell the Braves.

Fox officials declined to comment. A Turner spokeswoman would only say, “We are in discussions on both assets. We will not comment on those negotiations.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that Time Warner was deep in negotiations with Fox to divest Turner South.

Sources familiar with the negotiations anticipated that the Turner South deal would be concluded first.

Turner South -- which has vaulted into cable’s top 10 in ratings on a number of occasions with its presentations of Braves games -- aired 53 of the club’s contests in 2005, and it was expected to air around the same number during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Through a deal Turner Sports signed with MLB last November, TBS -- which will present around 70 Braves games each of the next two seasons -- is slated to air 45 contests a year from 2008-12. However, it holds the rights to air more than 80 games on other regional and local networks within the Turner family. Those rights would presumably be assigned to the purchaser of Turner South.

FSN South -- the nation’s largest regional sports network, with 11.3 million subscribers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South and North Carolina -- already has rights to some 25 Braves games that it can show in some markets. It also holds rights to Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies NBA games, as well as MLB’s Baltimore Orioles and the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, according to published reports, is said to be kicking the tires around the Braves.

A Turner executive said that should the network be sold to Fox, the entertainment programming on Turner South could migrate to a broadband service. Since bowing in 1999, Turner South has offered an array of original fare centering on regional sensibilities with such programs as Southern Living Presents and Liars & Legends.