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Baseball league lets fans create their own instant replays

A partnership between Major League Baseball Advanced Media and software company Virage will let baseball lovers watch video clips of games or favorite plays on the Internet.

    Attention baseball fans: Soon you'll be able to catch every foul ball.

    A partnership sealed Tuesday between Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which holds the Internet rights to all 2,500 baseball games played each year, and software company Virage will let baseball lovers watch video clips of games or favorite plays on the Internet with the simple click of a mouse.

    Using Virage software, which allows video to be streamed and searched online, MLB Advanced Media will index most of the 2001 baseball season on MLB.com. The service will let fans call up a home run by Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds, for example, rather than watch precut clips posted by news organizations.

    "It puts the user in the driver's seat," said Bob Bowman, chief executive of MLB Advanced Media. "A fan can search any game that we have."

    To date, most streaming video on the Internet consists of selected clips posted by news organizations such as CNN and ESPN. Some sites offer indexed, searchable video, but analysts say this is not yet the norm.

    "I think it's definitely going to be quite common in the future, but right now it's in the early adopter stages," said Sujata Ramnarayan, an analyst at Gartner.

    Virage lets companies feed digital video into its VideoLogger software program, which then indexes the video using facial recognition, lip reading, and closed-caption text extraction.

    "In the end, you're going to have a fully indexed, fully searchable video stream deployed across the Internet or your own intranet," said Virage spokesman Jonathan Hirshon. "Our software, because it is automated, lets Major League Baseball put this stuff up almost instantaneously."

    Virage said it is looking to strike deals with other major sports leagues and already has a deal with EXPN, the extreme sports channel.

    "We're looking to maximize our possibilities, and we think sports are a great opportunity for video on the Web," Hirshon said.

    MLB's Bowman said the vast majority of baseball video will be available free to fans, but certain aspects of the site might be subject to charges. Bowman said he hopes the service will lead to more revenues as higher traffic spurs increased partnerships and advertisements.

    "Traffic matters," he said.

    San Mateo, Calif.-based Virage provides streaming video software and service to a host of other high-profile companies including Martha Stewart Living, Kraft Foods, Cisco Systems and Network Appliance.

    Virage shares rose nearly 18 percent Tuesday after it announced the MLB partnership and reported narrower-than-expected losses.

    The company reported a pro forma net loss of 29 cents per share for the quarter ended Dec. 31, beating the average analyst forecast for a 30 cents-per-share loss.

    Revenues rose 27 percent from the prior quarter to $3.3 million.