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RealNetworks and Major League Baseball Announce Subscription Deal

RealNetworks and Major League Baseball announced a deal to create a subscription service including live audio webcasts of all MLB games, and a video highlight service.

The three-year deal, valued at a minimum guarantee package, is $20 million, and can be higher depending on advertising revenues, said Bob Bowman, president and CEO of MLBAM, the interactive media division of the company.

With this deal, all audio webcasts for every regular season baseball game will be available by subscription only through the MLB.com and Real.com Web sites. The audio webcasts will be enhanced with synchronized game statistics and pitch-by-pitch animation.

In May, the video highlight feature will launch (for a yet to be determined price), which will let users search and create customizable video highlights of daily game coverage. According to Bowman, fans will be able to catch "customizable searchable video with every pitch of every game." "People are fans of all nine players of the field," he said. "We can show every play, every at-bat, every defensive move." Providing the video search capability will be Virage (www.virage.com) .

Speaking about the subscription service, Bowman said that "not every fan will want it, but some will." As goodwill to fans, MLB is offering a $10 off coupon for subscribing.

"Like the cable television industry did so effectively in the 1970s, RealNetworks is now opening up the Internet as the next mass medium for distributing great sports content," said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks. "We are methodically building a critical mass of top-tier, web-based sports content — and proving that subscription models on the Internet can and will be successful."RealNetworks' GoldPass service already includes all National Basketball Association games as well as webcasts of NBA.com TV. The deal today will add baseball to that mix.

One stumbling block to the deal seems to be the current deals with local radio stations. The companies said in a conference call that "every contract is different" with locals, but that the MLB is essentially bringing the Internet rights back under its domain.

Bowman indicated that live streaming of the games wasn't really an option, mostly because of rights issues and quality. But he did indicate that 2002 was a more likely target for live video.

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