THE MLB NETWORK'S Jan. 1 debut was the largest launch in cable history, reaching 50 million households—eight million more than the five-year-old NFL Network—and continues the league's push for greater control of its product. A 24/7 baseball network debuting in winter is, predictably, filled with reruns, including up to 10 showings of its daily hourlong Hot Stove program and airings of World Series games, such as Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 and all of the 2008 Series. In season the network will roll out
MLB Tonight, a roughly eight-hour (6 p.m. to the end of each night's last game) show featuring highlights, analysis (from ex--big leaguers such as Al Leiter and Harold Reynolds) and live game look-ins. Think ESPN's
on steroids. The MLB Network will also air 26 regular-season games after showing 16 from the World Baseball Classic in March, and has even installed two robotic cameras in every park that will be used in part to televise batting practice.
The network will benefit from what commissioner Bud Selig calls "unprecedented access," though it will likely follow the example of mlb.com, on which reporters aren't allowed to use the word "fail," and unflattering coverage of the league is minimized. But MLB Network president Tony Petitti insists that the channel will have critical analysis and will deliver the news, good or bad. "We have to be credible," he says. "If it's what fans are talking about, they'll expect us to cover it."
While the NBA and NFL networks are wholly owned by their respective leagues,
MLB has only a 67% stake in the channel, with the remainder split equally between DirecTV and iN DEMAND (a cable consortium headlined by Comcast and Time Warner, SI's parent company). That arrangement has led to wide initial distribution, which translates into strong cable-subscriber revenue. Good, bad or mediocre, the MLB Network expects to be profitable in its first year.