Cox Throws Fellow Ops a Curveball

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Cox Communications threw a curveball into the ongoing negotiations between cable and Major League Baseball over the league’s out-of-market game package.

The MSO’s decision to give past Extra Innings subscribers what amounts to a free pass to MLB.TV, baseball’s broadband out-of-market package, put the cable industry in an awkward position as In Demand continues to try to connect on deal for a linear channel slated to launch in 2009, according to at least one MSO executive with knowledge of the negotiations.

Cox will provide a full rebate to “a very small percentage” of former Extra Innings subscribers who purchase MLB’s $89 Internet-based out-of-market package, according to a Cox spokesman. Cox would not reveal exactly how many subscribers actually purchased the $179 package last season. 

Officials at Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems said they don’t plan to follow Cox’s lead and offer an $89 rebate for baseball’s broadband-video package.

Executives from Comcast, In Demand and MLB could not be reached for comment on the matter.

The announcement came two weeks before the cable industry has to decide whether to match DirecTV’s deal to distribute the Extra Innings package. The satellite company reached a seven-year, $700 million deal with baseball to distribute the 60-game-per week Extra Innings package, along with the league’s upstart baseball channel -- in which DirecTV will hold a 20% ownership interest -- to most of its 15 million subscribers when it throws out its first pitch in 2009.

In Demand has panned -- but not outright rejected -- baseball’s offer. Cox’s move, however, appears to undermine the industry’s efforts to secure a deal for the linear package.

 “It wasn’t the most opportune time to make that announcement,” said one MSO executive with knowledge of the agreement.

Cox’s rebate play also came one week before Congress is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue. The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has set March 27 as the date to examine the viewer implications of the MLB/DirecTV Extra Innings deal. Representatives from baseball, DirecTV and In Demand are expected to appear at the hearing, according to sources close to the parties.