In Demand‘s accord with MLB to carry the league’s out-of-market games package still requires signatures, but the important parameters are set and could benefit cable in a big way. Until Sen John Kerry (D-MA) stepped in last week and steered the parties back to the negotiating table, cable was most averse to MLB’s insistence on basic digital carriage of its baseball channel when it launches in ’09. That dispute was settled, however, when the league agreed to allow channel carriage on digital tiers, which Cox, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House will do, albeit a little differently in line with each MSO’s programming protocol. Cable also received a stake in the channel roughly equal to that of DirecTV, which sources estimate is somewhere between the 16-20% that has been reported. All told, In Demand and DirecTV will collectively pay MLB an avg of $100mln/year through ’13 for the package, and approx 40mln cable and satellite homes will receive the MLB channel upon launch. In Demand pres Rob Jacobson said he feels "very comfortable" with the deal’s terms and its conclusion, and the MSOs all expressed relief and elation that they can finally play ball. The pact is "important from a public relations standpoint for cable to have stepped up to the plate, so to speak, to ensure that it is delivering a full complement of MLB offerings to its constituents. The underlying message: never underestimate the power of live sports," said YES Network COO Ray Hopkins. Kerry, too, is pleased. "All we ever wanted was a victory for the fans, and this outcome is a big step forward," Kerry said in a statement. "I still need to review the details, but I am very encouraged so far." Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable are currently offering through Sun a free preview of the package, but the preview period may be extended. Comcast and Cox are offering through Sun an early-bird special of $160 for the package, which normally retails for $200. In Demand is now offering the package to other cable ops, who must negotiate separately with MLB for carriage of the baseball channel.

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