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A Big Web Catch A new online service enables fans to watch their favorite teams in real time almost all season long

Whoever said technology would lead to a more efficient workplace
didn't account for all those people playing endless games of
online solitaire or exchanging instant messages about the latest
episode of American Idol. And who would have predicted the latest
blow to productivity--live baseball games streaming into
computers? Memo to staff: Watch for a hot dog vendor coming soon
to a cubicle near you.

Video highlights and the occasional game have been on websites
for the past few years, but this spring Major League Baseball
became the first major sports league to offer an entire season of
games online at Baseball fans can watch a game live, or
they catch it the next morning over coffee. Robert Bowman,
president and CEO of MLB Advanced Media, says half the
subscribers use the service between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., in part
because more people have broadband service at work than at home.

Since 1999 Major League Baseball has sunk more than $70 million
into this website and did it with this service in mind. It's
designed for the displaced fan: the Red Sox diehard who just took
a job in L.A. but misses grinders, his mother and Tim Wakefield's
knuckleball. More than 40,000 customers have subscribed, about
40% for a full season, which costs $79.95; 40% have bought a
monthly pass for $14.95; and the remaining 20% have purchased
single games at $2.95 each. MLB predicts that revenues this year
will reach $2 million to $3 million, more than twice initial
projections, and that MLB.TV will turn a profit.

Lee Black, a senior analyst for Jupiter Research, which studies
the Internet, says that MLB.TV's early returns show promise. In
2002 only about 1% of the online population paid to watch
streaming video content, he says, so for baseball to attract
40,000 subscribers while the technology is in its early stages
bodes well.

If you buy in now, you'll probably give MLB.TV a passing grade.
The service is easy to use and the broadcasts are watchable, but
the feed isn't yet TV quality. Another shortcoming is that its
roster of games is incomplete. Live broadcasts are blacked out in
home markets (although you can view the archived version later),
and about 30% of the games, mostly those played in smaller
markets, aren't available because the broadcasts aren't
technically compatible with MLB.TV. Bowman says a complete slate
of games is the goal for 2004.

Are we moving toward a future in which no one gets anything done
at work? In recent years some companies have blocked their
employees from using eBay, music file-sharing sites and the like.
MLB had better hope its viewers can make a quick click on their
MINIMIZE button whenever the boss is lurking nearby.

COLOR PHOTO: MLB.TV SCREEN SAVOR Live baseball is a click away--for a fee.