Major League Baseball already has the most profitable league web siteand, in January, their network will immediately become the most widely carried league-owned network.
I spoke with Tim Brosnan, Baseball's executive vice president of business operations, about the network before tonight's All-Star Game.
Darren: The NBA never really got fully into the distribution battle with its network and we all know what the NFL has been through. What was the strategy going into developing your own network?
Brosnan: The strategy was always simple. We launched the network with the plan to get baseball to as many viewers as we could. That was always kind of the underlying philosophy behind the strategy. Then once we got into negotiations, DirecTV was the first partner in. Originally we talked about having an exclusive distribution arrangement with them, but as we started to discuss issues with the marketplace, with the distributors, we found that there was a much broader opening for more distribution. The choice everybody makes in these types of discussions is just how much you want to share or not share. How much you want to partner or not partner with a distributor. After a lot of discussion, some friendly and some contentious, we made a decision -- our industry, the commissioner, our ownership -- that we wanted the broadest distribution possible. That we wanted to be on a basic service and lucky for us, the Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, the inDemand partnership came along and proposed a deal that struck us as fair. And we're at 50 plus million homes and going north from there and more importantly we're on a digital basic tier, so as digital cable grows and that's the fastest growing space in television, Major League Baseball's network enjoys that growth along with the distributors.
Darren: You guys decided to keep 66 percent of it and share the rest with your partners, is that the necessary strategy to success these days? Obviously the NFL Network chose a different route and they haven't been that successful?
Brosnan: I think it's a question of you as content owner and you as brand have to make a decision how big a fight you want to have with the distributors because they have a limited amount of space and they are more apt to give you that space if you share it. If you don't share it, you have to have either a killer app in the content or you have to be prepared to have a very difficult, bruising, often public battle with them and I think that creates from brand damage, some blow back, and some of the time you spend is not necessarily productive in our view. But I can't question anyone else's strategy. I think we were smart and lucky enough to pursue the strategy that we did, we're really happy with our distribution partners and most importantly, we're happy that we're going to be able to bring baseball 24/7, 365 days a year to a very, very broad range of viewers.
Darren: Baseball officials have been remarkably adept at selling properties many times and managing to make the partners happy. How is this going to be different from what is out there?
Brosnan: We want to be hard driving business folks, but we want our partners to do well by us and at the very end of the day, we want our fans to be able access baseball any time, any place, any where and from any device. You know, I think we have a distinct advantage at Major League Baseball because of the volume and the depth of the content. We can offer people baseball content nearly 365 days a year and you can have it be different. And I think it’s because the depth of our season. They do understand, but they don’t. We play 162 games in 180 days. We have a 125-year history and we have that depth of statistics. The network is going to serve baseball fans and we’re going to serve them 24-7. When my 13-year-old son comes home and wants to get caught up on anything baseball, our goal for the network is for him to switch on the television set and figure out within 10 minutes or so exactly what’s going on in the game at that moment.
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