When the MLB Network goes live in high-definition on Jan. 1, it will be in more homes initially than any cable network ever—50 million. Art Marquez leads the effort, as the network's senior VP of distribution, affiliate sales and marketing. He spent the past five years in affiliate relations at the NFL Network, which has had a much tougher start-up.
One reason for MLB Network's easier time is that owner Major League Baseball has given minority stakes to the three largest MSOs (Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox) as well as DirecTV in exchange for carriage.
During the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) conference Nov. 9-11 in Boston, Marquez will be on a panel discussing whether the economic downturn will hurt HD sales and hence, HD networks.
Marquez talks about sports in HD, the wobbly economy and MLB programming surprises with B&C's David Goetzl.
How has the economy affected your efforts to reach deals with more distributors?
I don't know that it's affected us tremendously. We are America's pastime. And as long as I've been in the TV business—a little over 20 years—when the economy is not doing well people tend to stay home. I don't think they disconnect their video programming, so we become a very important part of our partners' channel lineups.
For operators, how important is it that the network is being offered in HD?
That's really been accepted well because they're all trying to increase their hi-def offerings. They're all competing and trying to say: This one has 100 HD channels, this one has 60. If you think what genres do really well in high-definition, it's sports, movies and certain nature shows.
But some cable operators are reluctant to carry the network because—as with the NFL Network—they don't believe the programming merits the subscription fees. For example, you'll only have 26 live major league baseball games.
I think we'll have more than just the 26 games. That's what's public, but we're hopeful we'll have some extra Thursday afternoon games and a couple of pennant-chase games.
Our affiliates and their ad sales departments are really going to look forward to the tonnage that they have to sell. They're going to have some good inventory.
Are you a bigger baseball fan or football fan?
I'm Mexican, so soccer and baseball were my dad's sports. That's sort of what we followed as kids. Then I learned to appreciate and enjoy football as an adult.