Blue Ridge, YES Drive 'Grand Slam' Distribution Pact

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Blue Ridge Communications has connected on a "grand slam" with the YES Network.

The parties reached an unprecedented pact under which the Palmerton, Penn.-headquartered operator has renewed its linear distribution agreement with the regional sports network, which televises New York Yankees baseball games, and secured video-on-demand and local streaming rights to Bronx Bombers contests on YES. In addition, Blue Ridge, beginning next year, will offer YES's "national" package of content for its subscribers that fall outside the RSN's telecast territory.

Although Verizon FiOS has also reached separate deals that have given the telco access to this set of rights, Blue Ridge is the first distributor to finalize an agreement for all four of the YES properties simultaneously.

Yankees on YES local broadband package

"Yes, it's the first of its kind. We were able to sync everything up with Blue Ridge, which has been a strong and progressive affiliate for YES," said Matt Cacciato, senior vice president, affiliate sales at the RSN. "With Verizon, we did things in pieces."

"We are very excited to work with the YES Network to launch live streaming of the Yankees and YES programming on demand," said Mark Masenheimer, vice president of operations for Blue Ridge Communications. "New York is right in our backyard and this gives our customers the option to watch the Yankees online as well as access to hours of programming available on demand."

From a linear perspective, Blue Ridge has televised YES since its rookie season in 2002, as the majority of its 175,000 video customers, residing in the eastern part of the Keystone state, fall within the RSN's broadcast territory.

Masenheimer said the Yankees have long been popular in Blue Ridge's service area, dating back to their game coverage on Madison Square Garden Network, although the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies, whose games are televised on Comcast SportsNet, are coming on. Blue Ridge supplements its big league game coverage through YES, with a slate of 30 live contests of the club's triple A affiliate, the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. Blue Ridge airs those games on its origination channel, supplying announcers to the contests that are produced by the team.

As for the broadband package, Blue Ridge customers, starting today, who receive the network on expanded basic and who also subscribe to the operator's high-speed Internet service, can purchase the "Yankees on YES" package for $19.95 for the remainder of the 2009 regular season. Within the RSN's broadcast territory, those subscribers can watch HD simulcasts of YES's presentation of Yankees games on their computer or Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

At 10 a.m. today, Blue Ridge customers can review FAQs for the product and purchase the package on Yankees.com, YESNetwork.com and Blue Ridge's Web site, www.brctv.com.

Blue Ridge follows Cablevision and FiOS as the third distributor to sign local market broadband streaming deals with YES, the Yankees and Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which holds digital rights to MLB contests.

YES, MLB and Blue Ridge will all tout the service, which will be available as the Yankees push toward the American League East crown during the 2009 season's final month.

"We're going to back the service on and off air," said Masenheimer, who called the property "a tease for this season. It's nice to see that our marketing and IT departments, working with MLBAM, YES and the Yankees, can get it up and going this year before we move ahead in 2010."

As for on-demand YES offerings, Blue Ridge joins FiOS in offering full replays of Yankees games, after the contests encore for a second time on the RSN. Additionally, Blue Ridge digital subscribers can watch The Joe Girardi Show; Yankees Magazine; the CenterStage interview series with Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay; Yankees on Deck; and Yankees post-game shows, among other fare, on demand.

"We've been very big proponents of VOD since 2001 and try to secure as much great content as possible," said Masenheimer. "It's nice to add games of the number one baseball team to our mix."

Beginning in January, Blue Ridge customers, outside the RSN's broadcast footprint, in upstate New York and out toward Harrisburg, will find YES national on digital basic.

This marks the fourth "national" deal YES has written, after similar rollouts on Bright House Networks' systems serving Orlando and Tampa, home to the Yankees' southern base of operations; Verizon FiOS around the country; and on Time Warner Cable in North and South Carolina.

Like the other operators, Blue Ridge will carry a YES feed that will not include Yankees or New Jersey Nets National Basketball Association games. However, subscribers will be able to watch the aforementioned shows, as well as Yankees Batting Practice Today; biography series Yankeeography; Yankees Classics games; Yankees Hot Stove; Mike'D Up: Francesa on the FAN, the live weekday simulcasts of Mike Francesa's top-rated WFAN radio show.; Forbes SportsMoney, the monthly half-hour program covering the latest sports business news and trends; This Week in Football, a weekly studio show during the NFL season; and Nets Magazine.

Masenheimer, who said the service will be trumpeted with promotional support in the new year, believes the YES fare will work in tandem with the out-of-market Major League Extra Innings Blue Ridge offers.

"The YES programming will be a nice complement for our subscribers who see the Yankees games through that package," he said.

For its part, YES continues to pitch its national service elsewhere.

"It's our job to canvas the country and drive awareness and build YES 'national' into a significant network for sports and entertainment tiers outside our footprint," said Cacciato, who noted the RSN recently presented the service to executives representing three Comcast markets in Washington state, as well as Wave Broadband. "It's really a case of sales 101, but when we show the DVDs -- there's nothing like Yankeeography, or the quality of guests that Michael Kay gets for CenterStage -- people get it."

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