ITV in YES's Year-5 Plan

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This Thursday, Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network will present a fifth-anniversary special originating from the Bronx Bombers' spring training home in Tampa, Fla. Five Years of YES will feature many on-air commentators and showcase reminiscences and highlights of the New York Yankees, the New Jersey Nets and its other programming.

After starting its rookie campaign with a major hole in its distribution lineup, YES, which officially threw out its first pitch on March 19, 2002, has registered plenty of off-camera and business highlights of its own. Since then, YES has significantly grown its subscriber base, revamping its Web site, building its advertising roster and expanding into high-definition TV, wireless and interactive realms.

“YES wants to continue to maximize its presence in different media,” said chief operating officer Ray Hopkins, who joined YES in December 2004 after heading affiliate sales and marketing for Gemstar TV Guide.

“YES is more than [ a regional sports network]; the Yankees are a worldwide brand and many distributors want to do business with us.”

Indeed, with affiliate and advertising revenues approaching $300 million annually, the value of the regional sports network is estimated by some in the sports community at around $2.5 billion.

Engaged in a nasty and public-license fee and positioning dispute with Cablevision Systems, YES was shut out during its first season on the New York market's largest carrier, before gaining arbitration-guided entry just hours before the 2003 season opener.

Today, YES, even with EchoStar's Dish Network remaining on the distribution bench, counts almost 12 million cable and satellite subscribers.

Indeed, Hopkins said the network has long-term pacts in place with the other distributors and is poised to launch on April 1 a standalone YES HD that will be carried by DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, among others.

As for the linear network, 2006 marked the fourth straight year YES ranked as the most-watched RSN in total day and primetime viewing.

Working with MLB Advanced Media, was relaunched last June, sparking a 76% rise in unique users from July through October 2006, over the same period the prior year, according to YES officials.

With increased traffic on both screens, YES has expanded its base of advertisers from 90 in late 2004 to over 400. Many of the network's top advertisers like, Infiniti, Lojack, Suzuki, Ford and Cablevision are also taking enhanced positions in its digital-media offerings, according to Hopkins.

The second season of YES Interactive on DirecTV debuts with the Yankees season opener on April 2. Continuing as the only RSN offering this package, it will showcase new features like in-game “Rivals Alerts,” real-time in-game pitching statistics and “Wild Facts” about the Yankees of today and yesterday.

Additionally, the bonus cam, providing viewers with a second feed, will be available for all contests this season, not just the home games.

DirecTV executive vice president of entertainment Eric Shanks was pleased by last year's results. “About 42% of YES DirecTV viewers with access to the application used one or more features on a weekly basis,” he said of the service that launched last July 25. “And 82% with the application used the features more than one time per telecast.”

He expects bigger things this season. “We worked with YES to refine our approach. We have more features that are faster and simpler to use.”

Late last fall, YES became the first RSN to connect on a deal with Google Video, resulting in a “dedicated” channel on YouTube proffering highlights and clips of such YES original fare as CenterStage and Ultimate Road Trip.

More recently, it launched a mobile score and news alerts with a company called 4Info.

Looking ahead, Hopkins sees more innovation.

“We're just getting started with our wireless business and Google Video. Who knows what will develop over the next few years. But YES is committed to being on whatever platforms emerge.”