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RealNetworks ups baseball Webcast fee

The company will charge up to one-third more for people to listen to Net broadcasts of Major League Baseball games, a sign of growing confidence in making money from subscriptions.

RealNetworks confirmed Friday that it will charge up to one-third more for people to listen to Internet broadcasts of Major League Baseball games, a sign of the company's growing confidence in making money from subscriptions.

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. In addition, RealNetworks and MLB will let people buy a subscription to one team's entire slate of games--the New York Yankees, for example--for $11.95 a season.

RealNetworks spokeswoman Lisa Amore declined to comment on the reason for the price increase, which already is being advertised on MLB.com during spring training. She also declined to comment on whether the MLB increase would affect RealNetworks' RealOne SuperPass, its subscription-based service that includes MLB as one of its partners.

The price increase comes as many companies are working to get people to pay for content on the Internet. But Net broadcasts of baseball games have a mass appeal, and the deal between Major League Baseball and RealNetworks is an exclusive contract, meaning less competition.

RealNetworks and MLB are on the last year of their three-year deal. The multimedia software company paid $20 million to be the exclusive technology partner for game-day streams via MLB.com and RealOne. Besides baseball games, RealOne also offers National Basketball League audio broadcasts, as well as streaming video from CNN, ABCNews, The Weather Channel and others for $9.95 a month.

The new pricing package for a single team is an effort for Major League Baseball to attract loyal fans, but it's also an attempt to figure out whether fans' interests are more team- or league-centric.

"While we know that fans have a favorite team, it's our belief that baseball fans take a broader outlook to baseball in general," said Jim Gallagher, a spokesman for MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), Major League Baseball's Internet and interactive media company. The new price plans "will provide valuable insight into how we do business on our site in the future."

MLB has been experimenting with other ways to broadcast baseball on the Internet. Last August, the league sponsored a live video stream of a game between the Yankees and the Texas Rangers. The trial attracted 30,000 fans.

MLBAM's Gallagher said the league is still interested in live streaming video and plans to make an announcement next week about its plans for this year. He declined to provide details.