Does ESPN have a plan C?

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As ESPN’s big Aug. 1 rate hike looms, no cable operator has signed up for
the sports network’s alternate affiliation deal yet.

Operators, for some reason, agreed years ago to a 20% escalator in ESPN
license fees, not focusing on the fact that in, say, 2003, the price would rise
to $2.60 per subscriber monthly. (That’s five to 15 times the price of other basic
networks.)

ESPN is making a big deal out of a proposed alternative package -- one that
reduces the escalator (though not the base rate) in exchange for a new long-term
agreement and the launch of all sorts of new products, some also carrying a high
price.

"We’re not signing," one MSO executive said. "To us, it looks more expensive
in the long run, not less expensive."

But ESPN affiliate-sales chief Sean Bratches said he’s close to several
deals, including affiliates among cable’s top 10 operators.

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