Cuban bursts into HDTV biz

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Moving deftly from one new media frontier to the next, Mark Cuban is jump-starting his own high definition TV network on DirecTV this week.

Cuban's grand HDNet vision debuts with a meaningless match-up between the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers on Thursday night, followed by 14 more Major League Baseball games down the pennant stretch run. Presumably there will be some contending teams to make the games compelling to some of the 100,000 HD owners out there.

Along with his MLB deal, Cuban has HDNet revenue-sharing pacts in place with the National Hockey League, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the National Lacrosse League. HDNet will start selling ad spots - it's assembling a sales force now - and split its take with DirecTV and the respective leagues. The initial source of funding for the venture, which will produce all the HD events, is Cuban himself.

Cuban, former Broadcast.com founder and current Dallas Mavericks owner, sees another live prospect in the NBA - despite his problematic relationship with NBA Comissioner David Stern, who has repeatedly fined Cuban for his courtside antics. "That's all in fun," said the voluble Cuban. "If they think they can get a check from me, they'll be glad to talk to me."

Beyond the initial sports outlet on DirecTV, Cuban expects to move quickly into entertainment events such as concerts - all free to DirecTV subscribers. Predictably, Cuban foresees exponential growth in the HD receiver universe over the next five year as prices modify. But he emphasizes he's hanging in for the late innings: "This isn't like the Internet land grab. This is more like, `Who's the last man standing?'." - Richard Tedesco

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