RealTime IT News

YES/Cablevision Deadlock is MLB.com's Win

The high-stakes staredown between Cablevision and the YES network over the broadcast of New York Yankee baseball games has brought a smile to the face of executives at the league's MLB.com portal.

With approximately 3 million Cablevision subscribers in the New York metropolitan area still clinging to hope for a last minute deal between Cablevision and YES, MLB.com is preparing to launch a pay-per-view condensed version of all games, minus the boring parts.

"It's definitely an alternative for the three million Yankee fans who can't watch their games on Cablevision. They have the ability to see the condensed game 90 minutes after the game ends," said Jim Gallagher, a spokesman for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the firm that handles the league's Internet operations.

Gallagher could not say if there has been a noticeable spike in paid subscribers for the 'Condensed Games' service but conceded that the ongoing television standoff would work to the advantage of MLB.com.

Condensed Games, which launches next Monday, is a 20-minute on-demand highlight package of every game played in the 2001 baseball season. "It's basically the entire game without the foul balls and the long pauses," Gallagher said. The service, priced at $4.95 per month, would offer video of every out, hit and run about 90 minutes after the end of the game.

The new service, which can also be purchased as a package with the site's other premium products -- GameDay Audio and Custom Cuts -- is expected to attract 20,000 subscribers this year and Gallagher believes an extended YES/Cablevision standoff would help push that number much higher.

For $9.95 per month, baseball fans can subscribe for MLB.com's total ticket, which gives unlimited access to all the premium audio and video services. The popular GameDay Audio service, which provides exclusive Internet play-by-play commentary, goes for $14.95 for the entire season.

Last year, when GameDay Audio was introduced as part of a $20 million three year deal with Seattle-based RealNetworks , MLB.com has snapped up about 115,000 subscribers directly from it's site.

In addition, RealNetworks sold about 500,000 gold pass subscriptions, which includes the audio play-by-play service. "We are projecting those numbers to double this year and we are on target. For this season, we have about 60,000 paid users for all our subscription products," Gallagher said.

MLBAM, which has a $120 million commitment over four years from the baseball league, has already used up about $70 million and Gallagher said the portal is on course to turn a profit by the time the World Series ends in October.

Major League Baseball's 30 owners have agreed to inject $1 million annually into its Web operations and Gallagher said the site was already self-sufficient. "We believe we won't be requesting the remaining funding from that four-year commitment."

"We just started our sophomore year and we're projecting profitability this year. This is unheard of in terms of a dot-com," Gallagher said of his 200-employee firm.

There have been several swinging strikes as the company struggles to cope with the demand for its exclusive content, including hiccups on Opening Day when "overwhelming traffic" hampered the sign-up process.

Gallagher said the initial kinks have been ironed out and all systems are on go for Monday's rollout of the Condensed Game feature.

If the YES/Cablevision fight drags on, it could be the only alternative to peeved Yankee fans.