TURNER PLANS SPORTS NEWS NETWORK;TIME WARNER ROLE COULD PROVIDE AN EDGE IN RAPIDLY EXPANDING FIELD

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Ted Turner, having conquered the worlds of news and entertainment, is developing a dedicated, 24-hour sports news network, Advertising Age has learned.

Mr. Turner, already a major sports programmer via football, basketball and baseball coverage on his TBS and TNT cable networks, is expected to ask the Turner Broadcasting System board to support development of the new channel at its next board meeting in mid-February.

EXHAUSTIVE RESEARCH

Senior Turner executives have already conducted exhaustive research and concluded there is still room in the burgeoning TV sports marketplace for yet another entry.

"There is a [good] business there," said a Turner executive involved in the project.

NOT A RIVAL

The sports news and information service wouldn't compete head-on with powerhouse ESPN, but rather would leverage Turner's CNN brand, much the way the company's new CNNfn does in business news. Other genres being considered include entertainment and health news.

CABLE TV TREND

Turner is following the path of other cable programmers that have begun spinning off niche programming components from their services in an effort to extend their brands and extract smaller, but more dedicated audiences.

How the new sports channel will be developed, branded and distributed will depend on the support the concept receives from the Turner board, particularly Time Warner Chairman-CEO Gerald Levin.

Although it's not part of the initial business plan, Turner executives are excited about the potential of wrapping Time Warner assets like Sports Illustrated into the project, assuming Turner's merger with Time Warner goes through.

POTENTIAL OBSTACLE

Turner board heavyweight and Tele-Communications Inc. President-CEO John Malone may represent the biggest potential obstacle to the plan. Mr. Malone recently formed a partnership with Rupert Murdoch to merge his Liberty Sports assets with Mr. Murdoch's Fox Sports and fX cable network.

If Mr. Turner fails to win support for the new channel, it won't be the first time. The board has vetoed a proposed golf channel and women's channel.

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