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Dodgers Told TV Deal Breaks Rules

Baseball officials say teams can't unilaterally give away video-on-demand rights. Channel featuring 1981 highlights remains on air.

September 08, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers' video-on-demand channel does not comply with major league rules regarding new technologies, baseball officials have informed the team.

After the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable launched the "Dodgers on Demand" channel last month, Major League Baseball President Bob DuPuy issued an e-mail reminding teams they could not unilaterally award rights for video-on-demand (VOD). Upon review, baseball officials determined the Dodgers had violated a 2000 agreement under which the league, not individual teams, controlled "interactive media."

The Dodgers' VOD channel currently features interviews and highlights of the 1981 championship season. The agreement permits teams to authorize "one-way transmission of radio and television," but a board comprised of DuPuy and several club owners ruled the Dodgers' channel is interactive because fans can stop, start, fast forward and rewind programming.

"The board interpreted that user interaction with the content, which is at the heart of what interactivity is, is a two-way communication," said Bob Bowman, president of Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). "The board made the determination that Dodgers on Demand is a two-way communication and therefore interactive."

With advanced technology, a click of the remote control can enable fans to watch game broadcasts and highlights and order tickets and merchandise, with distribution of that revenue as one unresolved issue. YES, the New York Yankees' cable channel, partnered with MLBAM in July to provide free access to statistics and alternate camera angles via the remote control.

On mlb.com, fans can pay $19.95 per month for access to broadcasts and highlights. Yet, when FSN wanted to air its "Dodgers Live" and "Angels Live" postgame shows on VOD, MLB denied permission, citing its right to control highlights. MLBAM has yet to determine a policy under which clubs can roll out VOD on cable and satellite systems.

"We look forward to MLB making a decision so we can work with our teams to create value for consumers and distributors," said Randy Freer, chief operating officer of Fox Sports Networks.

The Dodgers on Demand channel remained on air Thursday. Dodgers spokeswoman Camille Johnston, asked whether the team would appeal the ruling and how the team defined "interactive media," issued a statement that did not answer those questions.

"Given that this matter, which affects local club rights, is currently under review by Major League Baseball, we don't feel it appropriate for us -- or for anyone, for that matter -- to be commenting at this time," Johnston said.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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