Baseball Channel Debuts On Cable TV

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Major League Baseball launches its own cable network Thursday. It's being heralded as the biggest network launch in history. Madeleine Brand talks to Maury Brown, president of the Business of Sports Network, about whether the MLB channel can succeed where other professional sports networks have failed.

MEDELEINE BRAND, host:

Maybe you thought you didn't need another cable channel. Well, how about this one? Major League Baseball launches its TV network today. It'll reach over 50 million homes, making it the largest launch in cable history.

Joining us now is Maury Brown. He's president of the Business of Sports Network. That's a group of websites devoted to the business side of sports. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MAURY BROWN (President, Business of Sports Network): Thanks so much for having me.

BRAND: OK. So the economy's no doing so well. Is this the opportune time to launch a major cable channel?

Mr. BROWN: Well, it probably isn't. But all things being equal, I think that Major League Baseball has been lucky enough to garner a very good deal for them in the sense that they're negotiating with a number of carriers. As mentioned, it's the largest cable launch in history.

And so, even with advertising difficulties, they'll have a very strong revenue stream out of subscriber fees. And so, it's probably good for baseball. And they're hoping, I'm sure, to ride this out and have a long-term goal of making it a very profitable and successful launch.

BRAND: Well, baseball certainly has a lot of games during the season. So what kind of programming will we see?

Mr. BROWN: Well, they're looking for several things. They're going to show 26 games over the course of the year. They do have broadcast agreements with ESPN, Fox, and TBS. So it's a delicate line that they have to basically walk with this. So they're going to show a weekly game.

But they'll have a lot of in-studio programming. They're going to show "MLB Tonight," which basically competes with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." They'll have a hot stove show which leads up to the season and basically looks at all the trades and acquisitions going on.

And then they're going to show a number of historical games, everything from World Series games, from the 1947 World Series games with the Red Sox and the Cardinals, games that have been more recent in the '90s. And then they're going to show a number of shows that basically look in at certain years and certain types of metrics, including, you know, best nine innings, best pitchers.

One of the other things they're going to do is, they're-broadcasting "Ken Burns Baseball," which was extremely popular for those that have watched on PBS and may, you know, open it up to a whole new group of people that may not have seen it.

BRAND: And what about "Field of Dreams?"

Mr. BROWN: Well, they haven't mentioned whether they're going to rebroadcast any studio movies yet at this time, but something like that may not surprise me.

BRAND: Well, what about for fans? Any downside to this network?

Mr. BROWN: You know, I don't think that there's really too much downside to it. I think that the main thing - the very hardcore fan, the fan that is really interested in maybe a lot of numbers may not get what they initially want. They're going to integrate a lot of stats and whatnot into their programming that makes the average fan interested in it as well as the hardcore fans. So they're trying to find some middle ground. That may be the only downside that I can see to that group.

But the fact that it's opening up for fans that don't have anything to watch from January until games start being broadcast, this will be a great thing leading up to the season. And it certainly gives another place for fans to go 24 hours a day to watch. So for the hardcore fan or for the, you know, the fan that is just watching casually, it may open up doors to them.

BRAND: Maury Brown, president of the Business of Sports Network. Thanks, Maury.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you so much.

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