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YES Pitches Hi-Def Channel to Fans

Mar 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Even if the New York Yankees don’t play better this season, they’ll look better on television.

In time for opening day, YES Network, the team’s 5-year-old regional sports channel, will launch a stand-alone channel carrying games and other programming in high definition.

Working with DirecTV, the network also is enhancing YES Interactive, which gives subscribers access to statistics, scores and extra camera angles via their remote controls. Those interactive features will be sponsored this season, generating extra revenue for YES and DirecTV.

Ray Hopkins, YES’ chief operating officer, said the network believes in staying on the cutting edge of technology to keep fans tuned in longer and boost ratings.

“In each of these areas, advertisers have been excited to jump on board with us,” he said.

Since current management of YES Network—led by CEO Tracy Dolgen, Mr. Hopkins and Michael Wach, executive VP of ad sales—joined the roster in 2004, the channel’s lineup of advertisers has grown more than fourfold to more than 400.

The new full-time HD channel launches Apri1 1, the day before the Major League Baseball season starts, via DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision. All Yankees home and away games will be in HDTV, as will studio shows, including pre- and post-game reports.

The channel will be promoted with spots featuring Yankees players including Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter.

Next basketball season, all home games of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets also will be shown in high definition on the channel.

YES and DirecTV began testing a bundle of interactive features in July; most proved popular. Mr. Hopkins said 42 percent of subscribers with access used the features one or more times a week. Within that group, 82 percent used them multiple times per game.

There was a large group of heavy users, with 43 percent using an interactive feature six or more times per game and 25 percent using it 11 or more times per telecast.

The most popular feature was the out-of-town scoreboard. Another popular feature was the bonus cam, which allowed DirecTV viewers a different view of the game.

This season, the bonus cam will be available during road games as well as home games, and will be offered as a picture-in-picture view rather than a stand-alone. Mr. Hopkins said he thinks viewers will stay with the feature longer in that format. Other features are being tweaked to make them more streamlined and efficient for viewers, he said.

Features being added include a “Rivals Alert,” which lets fans know of developments in games involving any team challenging the Yankees for the division lead, and real-time, in-game pitching statistics.

YES has offered the interactive service to cable operators as well, but there have been no takers this season.

“Sports is a key for us, and differentiating ourselves in sports is key to acquiring and retaining subscribers,” said Eric Shanks, executive VP of entertainment for DirecTV.

Mr. Shanks said YES Interactive is a template for other services, but no other regional sports network is set to come online this season. He said YES viewers use the service to get quick hits of information about the game, so this year the service is simpler and responds fasters.

The extra interactive services are factored into the license fee DirecTV pays to YES. DirecTV gets some revenue for creating the added available advertising space.

YES also has moved online as one of the first regional sports networks to make a deal with Google Video; it gets a dedicated channel on YouTube.com. The channel will carry clips from pre- and post-game interviews and shows including “The Marv Albert Show” and “YES Ultimate Road Trip.”

The network also has mobile programming. The local Toyota dealer group is sponsoring text-message voting for player of the game during Nets telecasts. A similar sponsorship deal for Yankees games is in the works. YES also launched a mobile score and news alert service with 4Info, a mobile technology company.