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MLB Network chief: Advertisers OK with reduced load on 'Showcase' games

➤ The network has doubled the number of live hours since its rookie campaign.

➤ It has reduced its advertising load as a means to accelerate the pace of play.

➤ Statcast continues to evolve, shaping the channel's game and studio coverage.

MLB Network (US) is currently celebrating its 10th season, coming off a 2018 that saw it average 239,000 viewers with its simulcast game telecasts and 377,000 watchers for its originally produced "MLB Network Showcase Games," representing respective gains of 4% and 14% over 2017 levels.

Rob McGlarry, who has served as president since 2014, in a recent interview discussed the big year for the network, which is owned by Major League Baseball, AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. McGlarry talked about its value to virtual providers, advertising tactics and Statcast, the tracking technology that brings new levels of data and analysis to baseball. The following is an edited version of that conversation.

SNL ImageMLB Network President Rob McGlarry
Source: MLB Network

S&P Global Market Intelligence: How are you commemorating the 10th anniversary milestone?

Rob McGlarry: We ran an hourlong documentary looking back on Jan. 1, which was the day the network launched in 2009. We ran a series of top 10 player lists by position. We have "Throwback Thursdays" when we revisit some top moments.

The network has come a long way.

In 2009, we had 1,600 live hours with the games and studio shows, starting around 6 p.m. Now, we’re up to 3,400 hours, running live from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. throughout the season.

In the face of cord-cutting and cord-shaving, many cable networks have seen a decline in subscribers.

The distribution world is evolving. We want to be where consumers are going. We're on Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Vue, AT&T's DIRECTV Now and Google LLC's YouTube TV. We launched on Dish Network Corp.'s Sling TV on the first day of the 2019 season. We’re talking to the [other virtual providers].

Some of these providers started without sports, but now that they are up and running, they recognize the value that live telecasts can bring to their businesses.

MLB Network sells its own advertising?

The MLB Sponsorship group works on that part of the business and also sells the ads for MLB Network and MLB Digital.

As MLB looks to accelerate the pace of play, have you reduced the time between innings from 2:25 to 2 minutes with your Showcase games?

We reached out to our advertisers to let them know. They have been very supportive. We worked to adjust our inventory load.

In the middle of last season, we began using the double box during pitching changes, keeping the camera on the field and running commercials. It’s another way to help speed up the game.

Was last year a good one from audience perspectives?

We were up with the regular season and our Showcase games and all the studio shows. We're looking to build on that momentum in 2019.

Where do things stand with 4K telecasts?

We worked with DIRECTV the last two seasons. We’ve taken a step back for now, but we're having discussions about revisiting the format.

Statcast, with its looks at exit velocity, launch angle and spin rate, has changed how people watch baseball.

It has added value to our story-telling. We have worked hard on incorporating Statcast into our game telecasts. Brian Kenny has done a great job with Statcast on "MLB Now."

Last year, we put a lot of emphasis on the stolen base and the various elements that are involved in determining the probability the runner will get caught or be successful.

We’re working on some other things for this season. Statcast is constantly evolving.

So, what's new?

The 2019 baseball season has started. The NHL playoffs are underway, and we’re doing production work for NHL Network (US). We’re working with DAZN and their platform for "ChangeUp," the new look-in and analysis show.

April to June is very busy for us. But it's a fun time.