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Comcast to stream NHL games

Cable giant will let broadband subscribers watch up to two hockey games a night free of charge.

National Hockey League fans in the Comcast broadband territory will be able to watch games for free on their PCs this season.

The cable giant announced this week that it will stream free of charge to its 7.7 million subscribers up to two hockey games per night this season. The season begins Wednesday night with the Web cast of Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey at 7:30 p.m. EDT and Colorado vs. Edmonton at 10 p.m. EDT.

This is the first exclusive agreement that a sports league has made with a broadband provider to stream its games over the Internet. Major League Baseball offers various paid subscription packages through its MSN Web portal. A live video and audio package can cost about $19.95 a month or $99.95 a season. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association offer audio Web casts of their games.

Comcast is adding premium content to its portal as it tries to take on lower-priced services from phone companies. While cable still dominates the broadband market, phone companies are closing the gap. In 2004, DSL (digital subscriber line) had about 41 percent of the market, up from 39 percent the year before.

Analysts attribute most of the recent jump in DSL subscriptions to the phone companies' more aggressive pricing strategies. This trend is expected to continue with cable and DSL splitting the market evenly in the next three to four years. Cable companies have resisted cutting prices nationally. Instead, they say they have been focusing on adding value to their services for customers.

Comcast sees premium content as a way to differentiate itself from the competition. In addition to streaming live hockey games, the company also offers subscribers free access to RealNetworks' Rhapsody music service.

"We are offering our customers a fast, reliable connection and content they can't get from any other broadband provider--such as their favorite NHL teams," Greg Butz, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Comcast Online, said in a statement.