SBJ/July 24 - 30, 2006/This Weeks News

YES starts interactive broadcasts

Features are available to some NYC-area
DirecTV users.
YES Network and DirecTV have quietly launched their interactive TV service that significantly pushes forward the notion of ITV in the United States.

With a push of a button, viewers in the New York area watching the Yankees on YES are given real-time, in-game statistics, a bonus camera angle that changes based on game situations, player stats and biographies, out-of-town scores, league standings and team schedules — all without missing a second of game action.

Each of the ITV elements, with the exception of the bonus cam, appears on the TV screen on top of regular game video in semitransparent fashion. The bonus cam is provided in split-screen format with the standard feed, often providing an interesting dual look at the same play from a different angle.

For example, the bonus cam in a Yankees game last week simultaneously showed first baseman Jason Giambi arguing a called third strike with the home plate umpire, and a replay of the pitch that gave weight to Giambi’s complaints. Another situation depicted a Derek Jeter stolen base from the vantage point of both Jeter and the standard center-field camera that zooms in from behind the pitcher.

The package of ITV services is controlled by four color-coded buttons on the standard DirecTV remote control, and can be turned on and off at the whim of the viewer. The service prompts the availability of the additional data each half-inning, or whenever a viewer lands on DirecTV’s channel 622 from somewhere else.

The much-anticipated suite of services, in development for nearly a year, follows DirecTV’s march into ITV through its “NFL Sunday Ticket” package, but is unprecedented for a U.S.-based regional sports network.

YES and DirecTV plan to demonstrate the ITV services Tuesday in Manhattan after a soft launch July 16.

The DirecTV-YES ITV effort enlists the help of MLB Advanced Media, which will supply the real-time statistical data. MLBAM additionally will aid in an ITV fantasy component that will begin next year. Among the fantasy games in development is a short-term draft contest in which fans will pick players to be used during the duration of a single Yankees regular-season series, and then are ranked by the statistical performance of those players.

The ITV services are not available during commercial breaks, providing a level of protection to YES sponsors. The network is contemplating the placement of small advertising elements within the ITV services.

YES is offering the ITV service to New York-area cable operators, though none is expected to sign for the duration of the 2006 season. As a result, the audience for the service this year will be restricted to New York-area DirecTV subscribers with a receiver box less than two years old.

Company officials declined to discuss the effort in detail, and financial terms of the three-way YES-DirecTV-MLBAM deal were not disclosed. But YES Network CEO Tracy Dolgin said the success of the ITV effort will rely on the brand power of the Yankees.

“In the long run, it’s going to be good, strong brands that benefit from new media,” Dolgin said. “What brand is better than the Yankees? We have a unique product at a unique time.”

For the most part, ITV has been a 15-year unrealized dream for U.S. cable and satellite operators. Part of the problem has been the cable industry’s focus on more lucrative services, such as video-on-demand, high-speed Internet and telephony. Another issue has been the lack of uniformity in U.S. set-top boxes: Each cable and satellite operator uses different models and different vendors.

The United States trails countries such as the United Kingdom, where the Rupert Murdoch-owned satellite TV operator BSkyB has spent years advancing ITV. Gambling has proved to be one of BSkyB’s strongest ITV services, but would encounter legal restrictions in most of this country.

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