Per espn.com, and a MLB press release, MLB and DirectTV have signed a deal to carry Extra Innings. Contrary to prior reports and/or the deal as originally struck, this is not an exclusive deal. Incumbent carriers, In Demand (cable) and the Dish Network have the right to match DirectTV’s deal. In MLB’s language, “at consistent rates and carriage requirements with a deal to be concluded before the baseball season begins.” They’d also have to carry the MLB Channel when it starts in 2009, “proportionally equivalent to DIRECTV’s commitment” (which is rumored to be on the “basic” tier, a hangup for some cable operators).
DirectTV also promised that by next year, most of the games will be in HD.
This sounds like a good, fair deal. DirectTV’s product is likely to be superior to cable’s, with all the HD games, but fans won’t be coerced into switching, or left out in the cold if satellite’s not an option. It lets the cable companies compete on an equal footing – if they’re not willing to pay the freight, they don’t have to carry the games.
The interesting thing will be what they’ll do, now that they can’t just point the blame at MLB. We’ll find out how significant the subscriber base really is for Extra Innings, if Comcast, et al, are willing to use a basic cable channel on the Baseball Channel.