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Baseball Broadcasting Faces Uncertain Future

COMBINED REPORTS


LOS ANGELES -- Major League Baseball's television committee, headed by Bill Giles, chairman of the Philadelphia Phillies, is to begin meetings Tuesday to start setting a long-range policy for the game's broadcast future.


This comes in the wake of the withdrawal of ABC and NBC from The Baseball Network, baseball's television joint-venture, after the World Series. The networks announced the move Friday.


Acting Commissioner Bud Selig has tried to put a positive spin on it, but the networks' withdrawal has deepened the concerns of many in a troubled industry. Two perceptions emerge from this latest development:


?Baseball's network rights and revenues could be on fragile ground, reduced to bidding between Fox and CBS, providing angry networks ABC and NBC are truly out of the picture until the turn of the century, as they have said.


?While Selig and his television committee might have been the victim, in part, of an ABC-NBC power play, the image of baseball as an indecisive, leaderless industry has only been underscored by the collapse of TBN.


In dissolving TBN, Dennis Swanson, president of ABC sports, and Dick Ebersol, his counterpart at NBC, accused Selig and baseball of "a trail of broken promises," in an exclusive interview given to the USA Today's television columnist Rudy Martzke on the condition he did not call baseball for a reaction. So baseball officials did not hear the news from their "partners." They read it in the newspapers.


Selig and others in baseball suggested that the networks, concerned about the sale of advertising and prime-time scheduling in 1996, tried to force baseball into making a renewal decision before the required contract date of Nov. 1.


The strike wiped out any chance of reaching $330 million in revenue, the cutoff point for automatic renewal, giving all three partners the opportunity to withdraw at the end of the 1995 postseason. ()

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