Fox/Liberty Networks last week was contesting Turner
Broadcasting System Inc.'s right to carry any sports on Turner South, the new
regional network for the Southeast that Turner plans to launch this fall.
It what could turn into a legal battle of media giants,
Fox/Liberty publicly voiced its objections to Turner South one day after Turner unveiled
its plans for the first regional entertainment network.
Turner South will debut in October with a lineup that
includes movies, sports, regional news, off-network sitcoms and original programming.
As for sports, Turner South is slated to carry 30 to 35
Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball games that aren't aired on Fox Sports South or
TBS Superstation, as well as some Atlanta Hawks National Basketball Association and
Atlanta Thrashers National Hockey League contests, according to Bill Burke, president of
TBS Superstation and of Turner South, which will be based in Atlanta.
However, Fox/Liberty maintained that when it acquired
Sports South (now called Fox Sports South) from Turner in 1996, a noncompete clause in the
deal barred Turner from airing sports on a regional network.
"We were surprised to hear that Time Warner [Inc.,
Turner's parent] is launching a regional network carrying sports programming,"
said Vince Wladika, a spokesman for Fox/Liberty Networks. "In connection with its
sale to Fox/Liberty of its ownership interest in Fox Sports South, Time Warner entered
into an agreement with us under which it would not [offer sports] for many years to
In response, Turner issued a brief statement denying that
its plans for Turner South are in violation of any agreement. "The launch of this
network is consistent with our contractual agreements," a Turner spokesman said.
Turner will market its new network to cable and
direct-broadcast satellite affiliates in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina,
Tennessee and parts of North Carolina. Turner's squabble with Liberty, an affiliate
of Tele-Communications Inc., could put the kibosh on Turner South getting carriage by TCI
in one of the major southern DMAs: Nashville, Tenn.
Burke said Turner is seeking analog carriage on basic for
Turner South. He declined to disclose its rate card, but he said he sees its potential
distribution at 6 million subscribers. There are no carriage deals yet.
During a press conference last Wednesday, Burke added that
Turner -- which will have 18 programming services with Turner South -- is considering
creating other regional and national networks.
The core of Turner South's programming will be movies
from the Turner library that are believed to have Southern appeal, which will be packaged
in unique ways, such as the weekly"Kudzu Theater -- Movies That Grow on
You" and "Southern Nights," according to Burke.
This will also be some original programming, included a
weekly show done in conjunction with a Turner corporate sibling, Time Inc.'s Southern
Other original shows will include The Bluebird Café,
a country-music show from Nashville's venue of the same name; Whole World Theatre,
featuring Atlanta's comedy improvisation group; The College Show, which will
air shows from college stations; and WCW Classics, a showcase drawing on
Turner's library of World Championship Wrestling shows.
Turner South will also work with Cable News Network to get
regional news, weather reports and stock updates for the new network.
Turner has just begun to talk to cable operators about
Turner South, which will probably get wide carriage on Time Warner Cable's numerous
systems in the South. Turner, like Time Warner Cable, is part of Time Warner. Operators
will get two minutes per hour of local avails on Turner South.
Cable operators, which are being paid upfront cash launch
fees by some programmers for valuable analog slots, are taking a wait-and-see attitude
about Turner South, particularly until they learn how much it will cost them.
"We have been approached about it," said a
spokesman for MediaOne Group Inc., which owns a major Atlanta cluster with more than
500,000 subscribers. "In our opinion, if it's valuable for our customers and it
is reasonably priced, it will certainly be something that we'd look at."
Frank Hughes, senior vice president of programming for the
National Cable Television Cooperative, which represents small and midsized MSOs, expressed
a similar view.
"A lot depends on whether it's reasonably
priced," Hughes said. "What does it really mean that I'd be getting now,
other than incremental Braves games?"
Doug Montandon, vice president of marketing and programming
for Galaxy Cablevision, liked Turner South's plans to air movies, but he was
"lukewarm" on its sitcom reruns and sports programming.
"I'm sure that I'll be hearing more about
Turner South," he said. "But it all depends on the rate."