02/11/2004 1:00AM

Comcast set to carry TVG

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The parent company of Television Games Network has struck an agreement with Comcast, the country's largest cable television company, to carry TVG's horseracing channel on an unidentified number of Comcast systems, officials said Wednesday.

The deal could double the availability of TVG, a live horseracing channel and account-wagering company that has the support of many of the country's largest racetracks. Comcast owns cable systems that reach 21.3 million homes; TVG is available in approximately 18 million homes.

Officials for the companies said Wednesday that the rollout of TVG would take place over the next six months, but they would not say which Comcast markets will carry TVG.

Comcast is based in Philadelphia and owns systems in 17 of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country, including Chicago, Miami, Detroit, San Francisco, and northern New Jersey, according to Jenni Moyer, a spokeswoman for Comcast.

TVG, which was launched a little more than four years ago, sold itself to racetracks on the promise that its parent company, Gemstar-TV Guide Inc., would guarantee broad distribution of the channel throughout the U.S. Progress, however, has been far slower than many of its supporters had hoped.

"This is big news," said Nick Nicholson, the president of Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. "Distribution will solve a lot of other problems. The more homes they are in, the more advertising, the greater the commitment to improving technology, the more on-track productions they can do."

Nicholson, a staunch of supporter of TVG despite his being critical of TVG's slow rollout, said TVG's availability the past three years on cable systems in Lexington played a part in record-setting attendance figures at the track last year.

"The argument has been that making it available on TV would just reduce attendance," Nicholson said. "We're evidence that it doesn't. We think TVG has kept racing on the radar screen for everyone in the community year round."

TVG is currently available nationwide on the two leading small-dish satellite services, DirecTV and the Dish Network. In addition to the cable system in Lexington, TVG is available on cable systems in Louisville, Maryland, California, and Nevada.

The Comcast deal was announced one week after Mark Wilson, the longtime chief executive officer of TVG, said he was taking a reduced role at the company to return to personal business interests in New Mexico. A pending deal with a large cable operator had been hinted at privately by TVG officials for more than three months.