NBA net play could press TV – Broadband Content

Richard Cole

Call it a three-point shot across the bow of broadcasters and cable networks.

The National Basketball Association has signed an agreement with RealNetworks to stream NBA. com TV — and eventually live games — over the RealPlayer Gold Pass pay service.

“When the NFL and the NBA first started, they needed TV because broadcasters owned rights to airwaves,” says Jupiter Research analyst Christopher Todd. “With the Internet, leagues could get into the broadcasting business at a relatively low cost … traditional broadcasters need to keep an eye on this.”

That’s five to 10 years down the road, in part because dial-up connections won’t support the rich streaming necessary for decent quality game video, Todd emphasizes. It would take the leagues away from their core competence.

He points to Jupiter’s figures showing that by 2005, almost 29 million people will have broadband connections, allowing them to stream NBA games from the Internet to their PC — or their TV.

“At the very least, it will give the NBA leverage in negotiating new contracts,” Todd says.

During the announcement last week, NBA Commissioner David Stern sought to play down the importance of streaming games. He indicated the initial recipients would be foreign points, some of the 206 countries NBA. corn TV serves. He declined to discuss financial details, but said the league expects to make money on the deal.

Stern did acknowledge the evolving media world.

“With the rapidly changing entertainment landscape, we really do want to provide our fans with a variety of platforms to access our highlights and our programming,” Stern said.

RealNetworks chairman/ CEO Rob Glaser says the NBA deal is equivalent to the early days of cable and broadcast television.

“Sports programming is one of the real magnets, one of the cornerstones that drives this unique media,” he says. “The Internet doesn’t have channel capacity limits. People can get access to programming when and where they want it, even if they live in Atlanta and they are New York fans.”

Under the arrangement, which took effect Feb. 1, subscribers of RealNetwork’s $9.95 a month Gold Pass service have access to NBA. com TV, live game video highlights and vintage game video, as well as live radio feeds of every NBA game. Glaser says Gold Pass has 150,000 paying subscribers.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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