Q&A: Tony Petitti

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When the MLB Network signs on New Year's Day, it'll be the largest launch in cable TV history, with 50 million households on cable and satellite TV. It's also coming out at a time when the climate hasn't been all that good for league-owned sports channels -- or for TV in general. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Tony Petitti, the network's general manager and former executive vp of CBS Sports, about the launch.

The Hollywood Reporter: What's the first thing we'll see on MLB Network?

Tony Petitti: We'll have a "Hot Stove Live" studio show that will catch people up on a daily basis. It'll be our first show, so we'll obviously recap what's happened in the off-season since the World Series ended. Then on the first night of the year we've got the Don Larsen (1956 World Series) perfect game, the original telecast of that. It picks up in the second inning and goes to the conclusion. It's a great piece of baseball history; the original commercials are in there, too. It's Mel Allen and Vin Scully doing the calls.

THR: It's been a tough year for league-owned sports channels. What is going to make MLB Network a success?

Petitti: The big thing is the job that (MLB execs) Tim Brosnan and Chris Tully did in the baseball office to get the channel in 50 million homes. That's the key. The distribution deals really make the network viable and we don't necessarily have to go out there and take on those clearance battles in the beginning.
But it's the largest launch in cable history. It changes everything in terms of how you build it out. It's up to us to build a program schedule and production team that can deliver great content.

THR: Is baseball enough of a year-round sport?

Petitti: I think that we're starting at perhaps the hardest time of the year in terms of the content. We still feel pretty good about what we're doing. The baseball off-season is a pretty active time.
But then there's throughout the season. We believe there's lots of content. Obviously baseball has got a huge playing schedule, there are a lot of games going on every single day. And because the history of the game means so much to fans, that gets you home.

THR: Are we going to see major and minor league games?

Petitti: You'll see a "Game of the Week" across the season. We'll have occasional minor league games. We've got 16 World Baseball Classic games starting in March. We'll have some foreign games. We'll have a little bit of everything.

THR: How much of the MLB archives are going to be used?

Petitti: Having access to the great archives of Major League Baseball and access to the talented staff of MLB Productions to produce content and having those programs, it's a huge advantage. We'll show classic games. We want to have some taped programming that showcase today's players today.

THR: How have ad sales been affected by the economy?

Petitti: It's not as easy to launch as it would have been a year ago. but we feel that we will be pretty aggressive in the opportunities we provide to advertisers.

THR: How are you going to differentiate yourselves from ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," the big dog out there in terms of baseball fans?

Petitti: On the scheduling side, that we'll be on when the bulk of the games are being played. Hopefully with the amount of time that we can devote, that we can go a little bit deeper in terms of look-ins and highlighting the games as they're on. They do a great job on that show and we're trying to reach an audience all night and supplement the way people watch their local teams.

THR: How independent are you going to be about covering baseball objectively, seeing as you're owned by the league?

Petitti: The fans expect us to be credible. They want us to have a credible voice. I've told all of our announcers that they're going to be free to give their opinion about why certain things

THR: After so many years at CBS Sports, how are you enjoying a startup?

Petitti: It's been great. Every day is a little bit different. The team here has made a lot of decisions, and you can see them come to life. That's been very rewarding. It's a lot of excitement running around here.
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