SBJ/May 21 - 27, 2007/This Weeks News

Big start for MLB Network

The MLB Network, scheduled to launch in 2009, doesn’t have any executives dedicated to it. It hasn’t figured out what its programming lineup will look like or who its on-air talent will be.

But the channel will have the distinction of being the most successful launch on cable television ever, thanks to commitments from 36 distributors for its Extra Innings out-of-market package and the channel that will place the network in nearly 47 million homes.
“It’s happened really fast, but it’s been an amazing story,” said Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business. “This network will not rise and fall on the live games, but the creativity of the nongame programming.”

With its deadline passed, MLB has received commitments from the top six cable operators — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks.

The launch in nearly 47 million homes would signify the largest ever on cable, beating MSNBC, which launched in July 1996 in 28 million homes.
Much of the channel’s success comes from MLB’s decision to give equity stakes to certain distributors. The channel is two-thirds owned by MLB, while DirecTV will have a 16.7 percent stake and In Demand’s partners, Comcast, Time Warner and Cox, will proportionally split the rest. No other distributors, including top-five multisystem operators Cablevision and Charter, will have an equity stake in the channel.

The next four biggest cable operators — Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications, Insight and Cable One — did not sign deals before the deadline, meaning the channel will launch with six of the top 10 cable operators.

Of the DBS operators, DirecTV will launch the channel, but EchoStar will not.

MLB is still negotiating with telephone companies Verizon and AT&T, though sources say it’s unlikely those companies will cut a deal.

Meanwhile, MLB continues to grapple with making fixes to its current franchise TV territory map. The league’s executive council is seeking to solve an oft-maddening situation in which several areas of the country have been claimed by more than one team, resulting in a situation where some fans cannot watch certain teams either on their regional sports network or through the Extra Innings out-of-market package. Particularly glaring in this dispute is Las Vegas, which is claimed by six clubs.

The franchise territory map, though occasionally revisited over the decades, predates MLB’s emergence as a coast-to-coast national TV power that gains regular exposure through Fox, ESPN and now Turner Sports.

“No decisions have been made yet. We’re still compiling a lot of data,” said MLB President Bob DuPuy. “But we want to have a solution on this in the very near future.”

On Board With Extra Innings
The following lists cable and satellite operators that have signed affiliate agreements with Major League Baseball to carry the league’s Extra Innings out-of-market package and have committed to launching the MLB Network in 2009:

• Blue Ridge Communications (Pencor Svc)
• Bresnan Comm.
• Bright House
• Buckeye Cablevision Inc. (owner: Block Communications Inc., a.k.a. Toledo Blade)
• Burlington Telecom
• Cablevision
• CATV Service Inc.
• CCS Inc.
• Charter Communications
• Comcast
• Cox
• Davidson Cable TV Company
• DirecTV
• Home Town Cable TV, LLC
• Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (HTC)

  • Jackson Energy Authority
• Massillon Cable
• MetroCast
• MidContinent
• Mid-Hudson Cablevision, Inc.
• Monmouth Independence Networks (MINET)
• OpenBand Multimedia
• Patriot Media
• Phonoscope
• Qwest Broadband Services, Inc.
• SELCO (Shrewsbury)
• Service Electric Cable TV and Comm. Inc
• Service Electric Cable TV of NJ
• Service Electric Cablevision, Inc
• Southern Coastal Cable Communications, LLC
• Time Warner Cable
• Zito Media, L.P.

Still On The Sidelines
The following list cable and satellite operators that have not signed affiliate agreements with Major League Baseball to carry the league’s Extra Innings out-of-market package and will not launch the MLB Network in 2009:

• Adams CATV
• Antietam Cable
• Armstrong
• Atlantic Broadband Finance, LLC
• Baja Broadband (formerly Orange Broadband)
• Braintree Electric Light (BELD)
• Bristol Virginia Utilities
• Buford Cable
• Cable Co-Op Inc.
• Cable One
• Columbia Power and Water
• Dalton Utilities
• EchoStar-DISH Network
• EnTouch Systems

  • Everest Connections
• Full Channel TV
• Grande Communications
• Insight
• Knology
• Marco Cable (Great Lakes DSB)
• Mediacom
• New Wave Communications
• Suddenlink Communications
• Vision
• Vista Media
• Wave Broadband (formerly Starstream Comm)

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

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