Cable Operators

Batter Up! MLB Swings Into Strike Zone

4/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

MLB Network has taken its first
swings with a new scoring and highlights
service, while bolstering its regular distribution
roster with the addition of the former
Insight Communications
systems.

The channel
on April 10
threw out the
first pitch on
MLB Network
Strike Zone
with Time
Warner Cable,
Bright House
Networks, DirecTV
and Dish
Network. The
service, which
the distributors
have positioned
on their sports
packages, provides
live look-ins and highlights on Tuesday
and Friday nights, when MLB Network
is presenting live-game action.

Tony Petitti, president and CEO of MLB
Network, said the service had been discussed
internally over the past year. “We
talked about what it would be, its look and
how we could do it technically. We had to
wire some things differently in our building
[MLB Network is headquartered in Secaucus,
N.J.] and add a third feed,” he explained.

While acknowledging some kinship to
NFL RedZone and DirecTV’s Red Zone ad
hoc scoring channels, Petitti also said Strike
Zone stemmed from wanting to do a standalone
version of MLB Tonight when MLB
Network was in game coverage.

“We weren’t out in the marketplace very
long, but there was a strong reaction,” he
said. “Our plan was to get something done at
the beginning of the season, and it’s great we
have four key affiliates on board. We wanted
something that was fun, quick, that bounces
around the games. It’s been a good start
for Strike Zone.”

Now that the network is out of the batter’s
box, it can serve as its own calling card.
“Fans and distributors can see it,” Petitti
said, declining to discuss what, if any, license
fees the service is carrying. “Our goal is to
have as robust an offering as possible. Strike
Zone offers value as a service that helps us
grows our business as well as that of our distribution
partners.”

Currently in its fourth season, MLB Network
is the largest of the four league-owned
services, with almost 69 million subscribers.
The day before
Opening Day,
MLB Network
picked up carriage
on the former Insight
Communicat
ions systems
in Indiana, Kentucky
and Ohio
that were recently
acquired by Time
Warner Cable.

“MLB Network
is now par t of
the digital package
as part of a
deal with Time
Warner Cable —
it’s a nice chunk
of subscribers,”
Petitti said, noting that “over the past 12 to
15 months, we’ve really been focused on the
affiliate side. Adding AT&T U-verse and Dish
Network gives us a presence with all top 10
distributors.”

Petitti said the service would enter the renewal
process over the next 18 to 24 months.
SNL Kagan estimates MLB Network’s subscriber
fee at 25 cents per month.

On the content side, MLB Network is
teaming with Fox Sports on a 30-minute
pregame show before the broadcaster’s
Saturday game of the week. “It’s flattering
that we’re collaborating with Fox,” he said,
“and great for baseball that there is an expanded
pregame show.”

All variables being considered, Petitti estimates
that MLB Network once again will
present “north of 125 ballgames” this season
with its schedule of Tuesday night doubleheaders
and contests on Thursdays, Fridays
and Saturdays.

Asked if MLBN was in contention for the
new pair of Wild Card playoff games, he
said: “Our goal is to be in a position to be
in the conversation for significant, exclusive
properties, whether that’s for this or the
next time. It’s something being worked on by
MLB, the [national] networks and the commissioner’s
office.”

Will MLB Network have more games when
new national contracts take effect with the
2014 season? “I’ll echo what Tim [Brosnan,
MLB’s executive vice president of business
operations] said,” Petitti said. “It’s not always
about quantity, but exclusivity or something
unique. ”

That being said, Petitti also doesn’t want to
see MLB Network’s game schedule reduced:
“We like live baseball over here.”

March