Major League Baseball forms cable partnerships

MLB announces distribution partnerships with three major cable companies, which will offer new broadband subscribers free access to live audio and video Webcasts of MLB games.

Major League Baseball announced on Thursday distribution partnerships with three major cable companies, which will offer new broadband subscribers free access to live audio and video Webcasts of MLB games.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable company; Charter Communications; and Cablevision Systems will offer customers a free subscription to MLB.com All Access, which includes live video and audio for most of the season's games. In return, the cable companies will pay an undisclosed one-time bounty to MLB for every new subscriber who signs up as part of the promotion.

The one-year partnerships will also let existing Charter and Cablevision broadband subscribers receive a 20 percent discount on MLB.com All Access.

The partnerships come soon after MLB struck a two-year deal worth as much as $40 million with Microsoft's MSN. The software giant will offer the MLB video and audio pack as part of MSN Premium, a $9.95-a-month package of Net services and content. Microsoft hopes MLB's live games will lure new subscribers to MSN Premium.

At the time of the MSN deal, MLB also struck a two-year, $9 million agreement with America Online. AOL will offer only live audio broadcasts, but it will offer video highlights for select games. AOL will distribute the service as part of its AOL for Broadband service, an offering similar to MSN Premium, which offers content geared for high-speed Net users.

AOL and Microsoft hope that adding sought-after content will keep subscribers on their services. Both companies have watched their dial-up subscriber base slide over the past year.

A Microsoft representative did not immediately return calls for comment.

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