YES Network, DirecTV, MLB.com embrace iTV

Interactive TV is going to the Big Leagues.

Early on Wednesday morning the YES Network, DirecTV, and MLB.com nailed down a deal that will deliver interactive TV services to Yankee fans as part of an effort to ensure that stat-hungry fans stay glued to the TV.

We re trying to improve the viewing experience, says Ray Hopkins, YES Network COO. It s already an immersive experience but these applications will build further stickiness and have people stick with us for all nine innings.

The deal makes the YES Network the first regional sports network to offer interactive services. It s also part of a broader initiative by DirecTV to ensure that satellite subscribers receive iTV and two-way services.

Hopkins says talks with DirecTV began almost a year ago when the two were discussing a renewal deal. DirecTV indicated that interactive TV was important and that began a dialogue that lasted six months and intensified in the last six weeks, says Hopkins. Once MLB.com became involved as the provider of the data work to finalize the deal kicked into overdrive.

DirecTV subscribers in the YES footprint in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and eastern Pennsylvania will receive the free service beginning July 14. Features include:
-Live, up-to-the-minute interactive scores of other MLB games
-Live interactive in-game, historical and league statistics
-Instant access to live in-game box scores
-A bonus StarCam camera focusing on a particular star each inning
-A daily interactive game
-Interactive access to season results for the Yankees, and their remaining schedule

DirecTV and MLB.com will handle all of the technical aspects of the system although the StarCam feature will probably require YES to add an additional camera to its telecast. StarCam might show Derek Jeter in the field for the top of an inning, says Hopkins. Viewers can tune to the service and see the StarCam on 75% of the screen while the regular YES telecast takes up the remaining portion of the screen.

The service won t be active during commercials, ensuring that interactive-happy viewers don t use it as a way to avoid spots. Hopkins also says the YES sales team has gotten some good feedback from its clients.

This is really about putting our foot in the water and figuring out how we use these services moving forward, says Hopkins. Ultimately a lot of eyes [in the league] will be watching how successful this is, and there is certainly the potential for other regional networks to offer similar services.

As for cable subscribers in the area, Hopkins says the deal is non-exclusive so, if Time Warner Cable, Comcast, or Cablevision are interested the YES Network is willing to listen.