MURDOCH MAKES IT HOT

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For the broadcast television networks, it's the worst of times and best of times. And credit Rupert Murdoch for that.

It's the worst of times because Mr. Murdoch has raised the stakes for each of the Big 4 broadcast networks, including his own Fox network; the best of times because, after a dreary decade of shrinking viewership, his dynamic station investments once again gives broadcast network TV "hot medium" status-new reasons for commanding advertiser attention.

The challenges cannot be understated. Mr. Murdoch's rivals at CBS, NBC and ABC first were forced to calculate how the network sports marketplace will change after Fox destroyed the status quo with its purchase of the National Football League's National Football Conference telecasts. Now the old Big 3 face intense pressures to take action (i.e., spend big money) to secure their key affiliates, where Mr. Murdoch has changed all the ground rules with one bold raid that cost them a dozen valuable outlets.

And Mr. Murdoch and his partners certainly won't be sitting back and watching while their bigger rivals squirm. With Fox's mega-millions on the line, they're under the gun to make this huge gamble pay off. A winning prime-time programming lineup for Fox is still a must, and that can't be purchased so easily.

While the new Big 4 battle it out for affiliates, programming and viewers, it's advertisers that stand to be winners.

Awaiting them when the dust settles should be more quality options from four strong broadcast networks fighting to fill their needs. And there's the intriguing possibility Mr. Murdoch has more up his sleeve; that he can lead U.S. broadcast networks into a new global future where links with his overseas TV operations offer advertisers still more new programming and advertising dimensions.

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