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FOX SAYS it is not a television network. Rupert Murdoch's upstart "programming service," as it calls itself, is taking advantage of Federal Communications Commission rules that say a network must offer more than 15 hours of prime-time viewing per week. Fox has cleverly programmed exactly 15, while the Big Three each have 22. As a non-network, Fox is free to syndicate the shows that it produces--a lucrative business denied by law to ABC, CBS, and NBC until November, 1995.

IN REALITY, Fox is a network in most respects. It has a broad reach: Its signal is available to 95% of American homes, vs. 99% for the Big Three. Although its ratings average 7.2 points (with each point almost 1 million households), compared with 12.4 for the others, the difference is mainly because Fox shows are on for less time each evening. And this fall, Fox will begin airing NFC football, which it won from CBS. With an operating income of $261 million, Fox has almost overtaken NBC's No.3 spot for financial performance. The FCC is being fairer by phasing out the syndication ban for the Big Three. But while it lasts, the ban gives Fox a big leg up.

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