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MLB Network Taking Gradual Steps To Ad Growth Success

MLB Network,
which celebrated its third anniversary in January, has made great strides in
distribution and in viewership, averaging 207,000 for its live games in 2011,
up 36% over the previous year.

The network is
67% owned by Major League Baseball with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and
DirecTV splitting the remaining portion. Sports media buyers say that while-in
terms of viewership-it's not a major player compared to fellow MLB TV partners
Fox, ESPN and Turner, MLB Network is still a part of every buying discussion
among TV baseball advertisers.

Heading into
this season, the network carried 150 spring training games as well as the two
opening games of the MLB season televised live from Tokyo, where the Seattle
Mariners played the Oakland A's.

Bill Morningstar
joined as executive VP of advertising sales in 2008 prior to the network
going live; he's been responsible for bringing advertisers into the
network from its inception. Here, Morningstar updates MBPT on the ad
situation at MLB Network as baseball's regular season opens on a full scale
this week.

Going into the 2012 season, what kind of
shape is MLB Network in?

[2011] was a
good year for us. MLB [network] president Tony Pettiti and his programming
group are putting on programming surrounding the games that is second to none.
Our MLB Tonight won the 2011 Emmy for
Best Sports Studio Show. Our ratings in 2011 were up and the ad revenue has
followed. Our primetime viewership in 2011 was up 29% in homes and
more than 30% in every key demo. Our viewership for MLB Tonight was up 44 percent in total viewers and up more
than 40 percent in all key demos. Our total-day viewership and ratings have
doubled in all demos. And ratings for two of our key in-season shows,
The Rundown and Intentional Talk were up between 38% and 60% in viewers and key

How has that translated into ad sales?

Almost every
day a piece of new business comes in. For this season, we have a lot of
advertisers returning and we are doing a lot of product integrations into our
shows. A lot of marketers in the last upfront did four-quarter deals
with us, which is unusual. Most sports are sold quarter by quarter. So we had a
lot of advertisers locked in as the season started. We did three times as many
four-quarter [12 month] deals in the 2011 upfront as we did in 2010.

How many advertisers are on the network

Today we
have well over 100 advertisers.

Who are some of your larger advertisers?

Pizza Hut,
Capital One, GM, Chrysler, Unilever, Cisco and Subway are a few of them. We
have a good cross-section of advertisers in each category.

What categories have your new
advertisers come from?

insurance, technology, men's grooming and fast food have all been growing
categories for us. We're also starting to see the movie category
recognize our value. Baseball telecasts dominate the summer and each night with
our studio show we have live look-in access to every game being played, in
addition to our live games. We are bringing in an audience of men 18-34 and
that's an audience movie studios are looking for.

What categories do you see as having room
to make inroads in?

Financial is
one area. Financial advertisers usually focus a lot of their spending on fourth
quarter. We are trying to get them to look at us as being attractive as a
year-round vehicle. We are starting to get some new financial
advertisers, but we still have plenty of room to grow in this

your viewership levels are still small compared to MLB's other TV partners,
sports media buyers say MLB Network is included in most clients' baseball
buys on some level. But how do you try to convince marketers they
should be advertising on the network if they aren't already?

We're in more
than 68 million households and our audience has a higher median household
income than CNN, CNBC or Fox News Channel. We have a high-quality production
value, a high tech studio and good graphics. We're growing our viewership and
ratings every year at a steady rate. Advertisers seem to like our on-air
talent. And we can accommodate advertisers in many ways with integrations.

What are some examples of product

Well, we
signed up Callaway, the golf equipment company, to be sponsor of our off-season
studio show, Hot Stove. A lot of our
on-air talent on that show is recreational golfers, so we gave Callaway a lot
of integration on the air, with those guys demonstrating the live use of their
clubs. Kingsford Charcoal sponsors our series, 30 Clubs in 30 Days. We created a series of vignettes with one of
our on-air talents, Mitch Williams, in which he uses Kingsford to grill up some
food. We try to create customized partnerships with advertisers wherever we
can. If there is something the brand wants to do and we can do it, then we

What can we look for in the way of new
features for the coming season?

One of the
interesting things we did in the off-season was to build a new social media
area in our studio that has touchscreens that our on-air talent can use in our
various live shows to interact with fans through polls on Facebook and through
responses on Twitter and via emails. This adds another layer of content to the

With the upfront period again
approaching, how does MLB Network plan to present itself and sell?

We don't hold
an upfront presentation, but we make agency-to-agency visits. During the
broadcast upfront week when a lot of advertisers are in town, we'll do
things like invite them to a suite at Yankee Stadium, where we
can entertain them. But most of our selling is done door-to-door on a
year-round basis. An advantage for us of visiting each agency and some
advertisers in person is that we can learn more about what each brand is
looking to accomplish on an individual basis and have more substantive