The cable sports-media ecosystem is in good shape despite ongoing talks between distributors and content owners on cost, said panelists at a high-energy panel at the Cable Show. The panel—moderated by Insight CEO Michael Willner, who appropriately donned a referee’s jersey—offered a mixed picture. "Business is healthy but under stress," noted Jon Litner, pres, Comcast SportsNet. "There’s got to be some (financial) rationality brought into the equation." He said one solution is to partner with team owners to give licensees some "skin in the game," as Comcast is doing. With consumers complaining that prices are too high, Cox svp, programming Robert Wilson said: "Our primary objective is to maintain useful and productive consumer choices." Sean Bratches, evp, sales and marketing ESPN, contended that sports fans in America have never been better served. Noting that 90% of people consider themselves a sports fan, he shared that in Q4 ’07, 209mln Americans tuned in to one of ESPN’s 4 networks. Melinda Witmer, evp/Chief Programming Officer at Time Warner Cable, lauded the spirit of collaboration in the industry but said: "We have to strike balances in how we manage the non-fan, to find ways to superserve the fan but allow the non-fan to not carry the freight." Randy Freer, president Fox Regional Cable Sports Networks, said the sports business "gets painted with a brush that isn’t really fair. Price may actually be low when compared to how many people watch sports and how it’s helped the cable business grow."

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