Fox Sports Net Plans New Digital Service

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To put cable on an even playing field with direct-broadcast satellite providers, Fox Sports Net will combine local feeds from 23 regional sports networks into a three-channel package for digital subscribers.

The new offering, Fox Sports Digital Gold, will include live local events from all the regional sports networks-with the exception of blacked-out professional sports telecasts-as well as locally produced studio shows, Fox Cable Networks Group executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Lindsay Gardner said.

The package is expected to launch in January, and operators hope it will help recapture sports fans lost to DirecTV Inc. That DBS service offers each of the regional sports networks 24 hours per day, providing fans with an abundance of sports coverage from around the country.

"Operators have asked us to give them a product to use to compete with DirecTV," Gardner said.

Due to channel-capacity concerns, most operators are unable to match DBS's regional sports network coverage. But Gardner said the three-channel Fox Sports Digital Gold package would offer all the live college games provided by the regionals as well as locally originated programs of interest.

Due to local blackout rules, games from the professional sports leagues are, for the most part, not offered on the DBS offerings or the Fox Sports Digital Gold channels.

"Fox Sports Digital Gold takes all of that programming and distills it down to three channels," Gardner said. "All of the live events that air on DirecTV will air on the three channels."

Though rate cards for the individual regional sports networks are among the highest for basic networks, Gardner said the cost of the digital gold package would be in the "low 50-cent range."

Gardner said that Fox is currently in talks with several MSOs, including "advanced discussions with AT&T," about launching the service, but no deals have been reached.

Fox has brokered distribution agreements with Qwest Communications International Inc. and RCN Corp. in several markets.

Fox Sports Digital Gold will be part of a Fox Digital Suite package of services that will also feature Fox Sports World, Fox Sports World Español, WebMD TV, Fox Movie Channel and National Geographic Channel, the company said. All the services will be digitally compressed on C3 Transponder 1.

The Fox Sports Digital Gold package is part of an overall effort by the cable industry to recapture sports fans lost to DBS, whose special sports packages will generate an estimated $516 million in revenue this year, according to The Carmel Group's DBS Investor newsletter.

Pay-per-view network In Demand has made inroads in securing popular out-of-market professional sports league packages for digital cable- subscribers, offering both "NBA League Pass" and "NHL Center Ice."

In Demand has also secured exclusive rights to several Sanex WTA Tour women's tennis tournaments for digital-cable subscribers.

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