FCC Eyes 'Extra Innings’

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Despite getting numerous curveballs thrown at it last week by lawmakers and other television distributors, Major League Baseball looks like it will consummate its controversial seven-year, $700 million deal with DirecTV for exclusive carriage of baseball’s “MLB Extra Innings” out-of-market game package.

Individuals close to the deal say it could be announced as early as this week, thereby shutting out cable operators and satellite provider EchoStar Communications from the 900-game package. But even if the two parties announce the grand slam deal, the Federal Communications Commission seems intent to make them sweat before going into their homerun trot.

The FCC, on the urging of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), last week said it plans to investigate the deal, according to an undated letter from FCC chairman Kevin Martin to Kerry.

“I am concerned whenever consumers cannot purchase the programming they want or are forced to purchase programming they don’t want.” Martin said, adding that he is seeking information from DirecTV and MLB.

The deal, which first leaked out nearly two months ago, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy and negative responses from cable “Extra Innings” subscribers who will lose the $179 package if DirecTV secures exclusivity.

It also caught the attention of Kerry, who began speaking out about the deal several weeks ago. Kerry last week released Martin’s letter along with a statement applauding the FCC’s decision.

“This is great news, and I appreciate the quick response from Chairman Martin,” Kerry said. “It’s good to know that he also has concerns about a deal that has the potential to deny choice to so many consumers.”

Kerry didn’t indicate whether MLB and DirecTV had a deadline to respond to the FCC.

EchoStar added its voice to the outcry last week, siding with Kerry and noting Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)’s persistent questioning of baseball’s antitrust exemption.

“We will be forced to take away valuable programming from existing subscribers who depend on EchoStar to receive all their television channels,” said EchoStar. “Consumers will be harmed — especially if they are forced to change providers, switch to a higher-priced service, or invest in new equipment.”

A DirecTV spokesman would not comment on the matter. Representatives from MLB could not be reached for comment at press time.

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