Following failed license fee negotiations with Root Sports, GCI has pinch hit MLB Network for the regional sports network.
The Alaskan cable operator added MLB Network in both standard- and high-definition to its lineup on channels 149 and 709, respectively, on Jan. 1.
MLB Network airs more than 180 live baseball games a season in addition to hundreds of hours of original programming, highlights, classic games and coverage of the sport's events. The switch, though, means GCI customers will no longer be able to view Seattle Mariners games on Root Sports, which televises the club's games and is the designated RSN for Alaska, despite being 1,700 miles from Washington state. Mariners games are blacked out in Alaska on MLB Network.
Robert Ormberg, GCI vice president of content and production management, said MLB Network had been a popular request among its subscriber base and "offers more games and variety than Root Sports. We think it will be a home run for our customers."
Ormberg noted that Root Sports was seeking a substantial rate hike, even though, it is losing Pac-12 Conference programming. "GCI has pledged not to increase video services rates in 2012, and to do so we'll continue to offer programming that provides value to our customers - not pay more for less," he said.
The move follows failed negotiations between GCI and Root Sports, according to Ormberg. The programming executive said that GCI had offered to pay a slight increase to keep the service on basic, but Root sought a higher license fee hike. With research indicating that only 10% of its customer base watched Root Sports, GCI suggested migrating the service to sports tier, but that proposal prompted an even higher license fee counter from the RSN. GCI withdrew its offers on Dec. 28, according to Ormberg.
Root Sports did not offer an immediate response to queries at presstime.
The RSN's website, though, pointed the finger at the MSO for taking "Root Sports off the air and leaving GCI customers and sports fan out in the cold."
Emphasizing that MLB Network can't offer 150 Mariners games, as well as a host of other programming, the release suggests that subscribers call the MSO and ask for Root Sports to be reinstated. It also points them toward other providers -- MTA, KPU Commvision, Hydaburg Cable TV, Dish Network and DirecTV -- that carry Root Sports and the 150 Mariners games. DirecTV Sports operates Root Sports.