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MLB to pitch live video online

In the latest push to promote Webcasting, Major League Baseball plans to broadcast about 45 games of the 2003 season on its site each week.

Major League Baseball said Tuesday that it will broadcast live video of 2003 season games via its site, in the latest push to promote Webcasting.

MLB Advanced Media, the interactive media unit of the professional sports league, said the move marks the first time that fans will be able to widely watch video of baseball games online. The sports league plans to Webcast about 1,000 games during the 2003 season on MLB.com.

"The unquestionable importance of the Internet as a communications tool and the rapid growth of broadband, should make this product attractive to fans around the globe," MLBAM Chief Bob Bowman said in a statement.

MLB has cautiously approached the Webcasting business in the last year and a half after announcing that it would introduce a streaming video service in 2001. Sports leagues such as MLB have been reluctant to embrace the Internet, partly out of fear of jeopardizing lucrative television contracts. Still, MLB experimented with broadcasting games online last August, when it sponsored a live video stream of a game between the Yankees and the Texas Rangers--a game that drew 30,000 viewers. The 2003 season marks the first full season schedule of live video online.

Other major Web sites are rallying for Webcasting in 2003. For example, ESPN.com recently launched ESPNMotion, a new application that lets broadband users watch video online of game highlights and other original programming. ESPNMotion, which has already attracted 1 million users in its first few weeks, automatically downloads new content to the application on the viewers' desktop every day. It also allows advertisers to run TV commercials within the application.

Yahoo is also preparing to introduce a paid video streaming service, called "Platinum Yahoo," by the end of March.

In a sign of the popularity of sports broadcasts on the Net, RealNetworks said last week that it will charge up to one-third more for people to listen to Internet broadcasts of Major League Baseball games this year. Subscribers to MLB's Gameday Audio will pay $19.95 to listen to audio streams for any game during the 2003 baseball season, up 33 percent from last year's fee of $14.95.

Through its own official service, "MLB.TV," which also uses technology from RealNetworks, the sports league will broadcast 45 out-of-market games each week on the Net, or about three games per team each week. The baseball games will only be available for purchase online to fans out of the local TV broadcast area during airtime. People within the broadcast area will be able to watch games on-demand 90 minutes after they're over. The live Webcasts will be tailored to broadband users in the United States and abroad; they will be streamed at 330K in RealOne Player format.

Starting Tuesday, people can buy access to "MLB.TV" via MLB.com for $14.95 per month or $79.95 for the whole season. Also, people will be able to view games on a pay-per-view basis for $2.95.

MLB will also let people sample the service by making nine Spring Training games available for free beginning March 13, when the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees.