Major League Baseball, Medialink sign deal

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CHICAGO -- Major League Baseball said Tuesday it will use a service provided by a joint venture of Medialink Worldwide Inc. and the Netherlands' Philips Electronics to track the use of its game broadcast footage more effectively.

The service, called Teletrax, digitally watermarks broadcasts, allowing the U.S. sports league to track which media outlets are using its footage, which specific footage they're using, how long they're using it and how the footage is being used.

It can also detail which sponsor logos are captured in the background of shots showing players celebrating game-winning home runs. The financial terms were not disclosed, but Medialink's shares rose as much as 4.7%.

"It brings intelligence that's beyond anything we've been able to know about how our game assets are used," Elizabeth Scott, vp programming and business affairs for Major League Baseball Properties, told Reuters.

"It's being able to better know who sees our game and in what context after it has aired live," she said in a telephone interview. "That knowledge is power in myriad ways."

MLB will try out the service for broadcasts of the 2007 playoffs and World Series during October. The deal expires in March, but Teletrax President Andy Nobbs hopes to extend the agreement. "Groundwork has been laid," he told Reuters.

London-based Teletrax offers a digital video monitoring and tracking service to entertainment studios, news organizations, TV syndicators and the advertising industry.

In addition to helping protect broadcast rights, the technology will allow baseball to improve relationships with sponsors by using Teletrax's U.S. coverage of satellite, cable and broadcast stations in all 210 U.S. television markets, as well as overseas, Scott and Nobbs said.

For example, at this year's All-Star Game, using the Teletrax technology, baseball could see that Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki's inside-the-park home run -- the game's first ever during an All-Star game -- was the most popular TV clip, Scott said.

As he rounded the bases and celebrated with teammates, the clip included a Bank of America insignia, something the league could tout with the bank.

In the future, such detailed feedback could be used to improve the money baseball can derive from its sponsorship deals.

"It's a new valuation line that could get added to sponsor deals," MLB Properties' Scott said.

Baseball, with $5.8 billion in annual revenue, used the Teletrax technology at last season's World Series and is testing its cost effectiveness on whether to use it in all 2,000-plus regular season games, or just for its premium properties, she said.

The technology "has meaningful value for Major League Baseball," Scott said. "There's not a league out there that's got total knowledge of all of the use of its content at every moment."

Teletrax' Nobbs said the technology also will allow baseball to refine its offerings for customers by providing more of what they want.

"When a piece of video is watermarked, we can tell the content owner when it's aired live," he said. "We can tell them when a piece aired the next day ... or five years later. Whenever it's subsequently broadcast, we can tell them."

While Major League Baseball is the company's first sports league customer, other clients include ABC, Associated Press, BBC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Nobbs said the company is in talks with other sports leagues about similar deals.

Medialink, based in New York, has a 76% stake in Teletrax, with Philips owning the rest. Medialink's revenue rose more than 7% in the first six months of the year, while sales in Teletrax jumped 34%.

But in August, Medialink executives said the growth of five-year-old Teletrax through June did not meet objectives. Teletrax said it did not meet internal targets based on higher growth recorded in prior quarters.
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