UPDATE #1: MLB Network reports that the HD feed of the channel is available to all carriers offering MLB Network. However, not all carriers are offering HD to customers, at this time.
UPDATE #2: MLB Network reports that the channel is carried on "expanded basic or digital basic or its equivalent."
MLB Network hit the ground running yesterday, with Commissioner Bud Selig addressing fans two-minutes before 6pm ET (watch Selig's address), and then airing MLB Hot Stove, a show dedicated to the action in baseball’s off-season. But some of the approximately 50 million subscribers expecting to see the new channel were met with blank screens, a product of service level requirements, possible hardware issues, and in at least one instance, a local cable company not having digital service up and running by launch time.
The largest factor, for those that may be expecting to have access to MLB Network, revolves around what is deemed to be the “basic” package. A key point for distribution of MLB Network stemmed from negotiations in April of 2007 for MLB’s out of market package, Extra Innings. While Extra Innings was initially going to be granted to DirecTV as a monopoly, eventually the cable consortium of iNDemand was able to broker a deal to continue to gain access to Extra Innings, but it was stipulated by MLB that MLB Network would also have to be carried, and on the basic tier, the most widely available. According to MLB Network, the distribution deal brokered with all carriers is that all must broadcast on the digital basic, or the carrier’s equivalent, a key difference from early reports. Those that have analog service, no matter the carrier, will need to upgrade.
The exception for the lowest level of digital service required for MLBN, at this stage, appears to be DirecTV. MLB Network is on the Choice package and above. Choice is the level just above what DirecTV deems as "Family", or the lowest level. ESPN, and other sports offerings, are not on the Family level of service.
A statement released from MLB Network said, “MLB Network successfully launched on January 1 in approximately 50 million homes. MLB Network is carried by most major cable and telco providers as well as DirecTV on digital basic or expanded basic. As has been widely reported, MLB Network is not carried a specialized sports tier, but does require customers to subscribe to digital basic cable or the equivalent. Fans can consult the channel locator on MLBNetwork.com to see where it is available in their zip code, and should call their cable, satellite or telco provider if they have further questions.”
Some carriers may also not be fully upgraded to digital service. In Los Angeles, Bob Timmermann of Baseball Toaster: The Griddle (living in the South Pasadena area) reported that Time Warner customer service said 90 percent of the area was getting MLB Network, that most not getting service now would get the channel sometime next week, and some would need to wait until February 10th or 11th. MLB Network could not yet confirm whether this was due to parts of Time Warner’s service area being upgraded fully to digital service, while some areas may not.
There were also issues reported with Time Warner Cable in the Albany-Schenectady region of New York. New York Capital region subscribers there did not get MLB Network until 11pm ET, according to Ken Schott of the Schenectady Gazette. MLBN confirm that this was a technical issue at the time MLB Network went on the air.
Some Comcast subscribers the Portland and Denver area were said to be unable to catch MLB Network. MLBN reports that they have been in contact with Comcast in these markets and the systems were up and running at launch as part of their distribution agreements.
Reports have also filtered into the Business of Sports Network that some using TiVo players with cable cards are unable to access the channels listed. In the cases reported, subscribers had premium packages. Others, however, have reported that the systems are working properly. MLB Network is looking into the issue at this time. A technical issue has been reported in the past with premium channels and TiVos with cable cards, most notably those looking to watch NHL’s Center Ice.
The other subscriber dissatisfaction stems from lack of HD channels for some carriers.
While some issues are said to be getting ironed out, other issues may take far longer. HD distribution appears to still be in its infancy for MLB Network, and as mentioned in our interview with Tony Petitti, President and CEO of MLB Network, distribution in Canada and other international markets are still being negotiated.
As MLB Network enters its second day, we’d like to hear if you are having issues gaining access. Please post in the comments.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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