RealTime IT News

Microsoft Pencils MLB Into Line-up

Microsoft is poised to announce a multi-year contract to offer live video broadcasts of Major League Baseball (MLB) games to PC users, as it tries to upgrade MSN subscribers to its MSN Premium broadband package. Financial terms won't be released.

Beginning Opening Day (April 5th), MSN will offer all games -- about 250 per week -- live. After the game, subscribers can opt to receive a 20-minute condensed version of the game or have a video highlight package delivered via e-mail.

The service is free to MSN Premium subscribers, who pay $9.95 per month on top of their regular broadband ISP charge for custom content and services. Non-MSN Premium customers will pay $19.95 per month.

Later this year, Microsoft and MLB plan to allow for viewing on Microsoft-enabled portable media center devices as well.

"This is more comprehensive than what's been offered in the past," a spokesman for the Redmond, Wash., software giant told internetnews.com.

Selling users on broadband-specific content is a priority for ISPs. MSN, which has about 8 million users worldwide, wants to increase revenue by selling services that require more bandwidth than dial-up connections. It also hopes that these offerings will generate new ad revenue.

In addition, the deal could boost usage of Microsoft's Windows Media Player, which competes against RealNetworks' product.

RealNetworks and MLB recast their pact in February, opening the door for Microsoft. Under the new contract, the RealNetworks media format must be offered to fans along with Microsoft's on the league's MLB.com site for live game action, RealNetworks spokesman Greg Chiemingo said.

That agreement does not apply to highlights of games that have already been played, he acknowledged.

RealNetworks is currently suing MLB for allegedly making the Windows Media Player the only choice for preseason games. MLB denied the charge and the case is still pending.

RealNetworks fully expects the RealPlayer will be available as a format choice on the league's Web site, MLB.com, as a media player on that day, according to its February contract, Chiemingo said.

The Microsoft-MLB agreement comes just a week after MLB signed a multi-year contract with Akamai Technologies to provide content delivery services for MLB.com and all 30 team Web sites, a MLB spokesman said.

The deal includes streaming of live games and on-demand video and audio game-casts. The integration with Akamai began last month and will be complete by Opening Day. The Akamai service can support the Windows, Real and Quicktime media player formats.

In 2003, MLB.com began selling live video Webcasts for roughly half the cost of tickets to regular-season games. MLB.com had more than 500,000 paid subscribers last year, including more than 150,000 for its live video service.

Editor's note: internetnews.com managing editor Michael Singer contributed to this report.