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In Demand Awaits Company

In Demand’s cable owners brought Major League Baseball’s “Extra Innings” package to cable’s turf, but no other operators have joined them yet.

Cable companies including Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems are talking to baseball about launching the Extra Innings package, as well as MLB’s upstart 24-hour network, which debuts in 2009. But at press time Friday, In Demand and baseball officials said no other operators had signed on to carry the 200-game out-of-market package since In Demand, DirecTV and baseball announced a seven-year, $360 million distribution deal on April 4.

Extra Innings carriage would require operators to follow In Demand owners Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox Communications and guarantee to distribute MLB Channel on a digital basic tier.

“We’re in discussions with operators, but no one else has signed on,” baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said.

Charter and Cablevision officials confirmed discussions with MLB but would not comment further. EchoStar Communications could not be reached for comment on potential talks between the parties for the package.

Small and mid-sized operators voiced concerns about meeting MLB’s benchmark of digital basic distribution for the new network, which is expected to offer some 100 live baseball games per year.

“The carriage requirements are probably going to send a lot of [National Cable Television Cooperative] members to the dugout with no hope of playing ball,” NCTC vice president of corporate communications Dan Mulvenon said.

If operators do agree to carry MLB Channel, it’s unlikely they would garner a financial interest in it, executives with knowledge of the deal said. In Demand and DirecTV each got about a 13% stake in the new network as part of the multiyear deal, which guarantees it at least 40 million subscribers at launch.

DirecTV executives report “strong” subscription sales for Extra Innings, while not being more specific. DirecTV’s Extra Innings interactive enhancements — including up-to-the minute stats and a dedicated channel offering five games at one time — give it an edge over cable, a spokesman said.

In Demand officials would not say how well Extra Innings is selling. Distributors can charge up to $199 annually for the package, up from last year’s suggested $159.

Linda Moss contributed to the story.