Tag Archives: MLBAM

Here’s Your Bullet Point Guide to the Garber v. MLB Broadcast Lawsuit Settlement

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ..."
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …”

A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.

There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.

So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:

  • Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season.  These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package.  So, cord cutters welcome here.
  • The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99.  What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
  • For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment.  That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall.  (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
  • In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well.  However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only.  Price of this is still TBD.
  • Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
  • If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
  • By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”.  This is completely different from the single-team package above.  FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time.  This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
  • Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all.  They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!

Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider.  Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.

You can read the entire case settlement here:

Garber et al v. MLB et al

The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them.  If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.

Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content.  This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.

 

Statcast Debuted Last Night, but It’ll Be a While Before It Really Matters.

Yes, very essential, but what does this all mean? (h/t Fangraphs)

The actual Statcast tool has been around for a little over a year now, and we’d seen snippets of it here and there since then, particularly during last year’s World Series.  However, yesterday’s Cardinals/Nationals game on MLB Network was the first in which Statcast was used throughout a game as a device fully integrated into a game broadcast.

The tool, which is being audaciously touted as “one of the largest advances in instant replay that we’ve seen in the last 50 years“, is intended as a way for us to finally quantify the game in a way which is impossible to do with the naked eye: completely, even exhaustively. With multiple HD cameras set up in each of the 30 major league parks, providing a complete view of the field and its adjacent environs, and connected to a system that will immediately spit out all the related data accurate to a fraction of an inch, absolutely action, no matter how small, will be left unseen and free from analysis from this point forward.

And that’s a good thing, right? Well, that depends on how you view the game of baseball.

The real constituents of the system, the major league teams themselves, will absolutely love this tool.  By being able to analyze and quantify every movement made by every player on the field, they will be able to evaluate their own players in context against all other players in the majors at that time, and should be able to properly value their performance as it occurs during live game action.  This should in theory help them more accurately determine what they should be paying their talent.  I’m pretty sure that as the cost of this system drops over time, organizations will be arranging Statcast systems to be set up at their minor league affiliates’ facilities as well.

The players themselves will benefit or be penalized versus the prior expectations of them that had been set for them under less perfect observational or statistical methods.

As for the fans, StatCast is sure to drive a yet deeper wedge between the “sabers” and the traditionalists.  The former group will welcome this development with open arms and spreadsheets; the latter will likely moan that one more nail has been driven into the coffin of baseball as the game of romanticism, poetry, and whatever other ethereal qualities define for them the pastime they love.

As for me, I like that the data are now being made available during broadcasts, but I am more looking forward to the day that we can review the results within the proper context of league norms.  Since we are in the infant stage of the technology, analysis of the data is very immature.  All we have at the moment are raw numbers and the inevitable SWAGs that will follow in their wake, at least in the short term.

Here’s what I mean: in the middle GIF above, Jon Jay’s first step to get to that batted ball was timed at 0.3 seconds, his top speed was clocked at 14.8 MPH, and the distance he covered was measured at 31.8 feet.  To which I ask: are these good numbers?  Is his first step better than average?  Average?  Worse than average?  Same with his speed and distance: are these results good, bad, or so-so?  I have no way of knowing this yet.  You probably don’t, either. These are just numbers so far.  I mean, sure, Jay caught the ball, but does that mean that he necessarily has an earlier first step and/or faster top speed and/or greater distance-covering ability than average? Of course it doesn’t, because we don’t know what those averages are yet. Maybe Jay was just lucky this time that the ball was hit near enough to him for him to reach it.

You can see that I have acknowledged that because we are in Statcast’s infancy, we don’t have this context available to us yet, so I am in no way making an unrealistic demand that I be provided this context, like, yesterday. But I think I can safely say that until enough data to provide this context are gathered, the information will be more like “somewhat interesting” than it will be “really useful”.  It will probably be a while before we get to that point, likely measured in years, but until we do, I have limited interest in the Statcast data, at least as of April 22, 2015.

I do hope, though, that as with HITf/x and PITCHf/x data, StatCast data are made available outside of MLB organizations, if not freely available to the public, then at least on a licenseable basis in which websites such BrooksBaseball.net can obtain it, dissect it and disseminate at least filtered versions of the it to the public.  That’s the really the only way the data will be meaningful to fans who are interested in it.  Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of numbers.

In the end, MLB may well be right that this will be “one of the largest advances in instant replay that we’ve seen in the last 50 years.”  If that turns out to be true, I think it will take a few years before any of us see that to be the case.

 

Does the DISH/Extra Innings Deal Really Mean In-Market Streaming is Nigh?

After an eight season absence, MLB has broken the bonds of its quasi-exclusive arrangement with DirecTV and Big Cable’s iN Demand consortium and have signed on DISH Network to carry the Extra Innings package starting this season.  The most interesting aspect, of course, was the prospect that live MLB games would finally be streamed in-market, an issue which has picked up steam this offseason in particular.

The DISH deal appears to open the door to that possibility by including this in the press release about the deal:

“The agreement provides a path for consumers to have authenticated access to stream live in-market games on digital properties from MLB, local programmers  and pay-TV providers. In-market live streaming would require additional agreements between the parties including DISH, MLBAM and programmers with local TV rights of MLB games.”

It has become clear since Rob Manfred replaced Bud Selig in the Commissioner’s chair that Major League Baseball really, truly wants to allow all of their product to be made available on all MLB.TV digital platforms, including the local game streaming within the local market.  This is something that has been more or less banned ever since the beginning of Internet-based broadcasts of live games.

But just because the press release says this “path” has been “provided for” doesn’t mean it’s going to happen very soon, or even soon-ish.  As Maury Brown metaphorizes in his sharp article about the deal, the broadcasting relationship in place among the parties is a three-legged stool: MLB is one leg; the telecast networks like Fox and NBC/Comcast and ROOT are the second leg; and distributors such as satellite and cable providers are the third.  But it is that third leg that is the load-bearing leg that might undermine the whole arrangement if they were to pull out, and they have a good reason to pull out, or at least threaten to, if the other two legs insist on in-market streaming.

In this era of programming in which the majority is time-delayed by watchers so they can view it at their convenience―and, incidentally, be able to zip through expensive commercials―sports programing is considered the gold bar of programming, since it almost always demands live viewing to fully appreciate it.  With that live viewing comes much greater viewing of commercials.  Because of this, commercials in sports programming are more expensive per viewer than in nearly all other types of programming.

But if local live sports becomes available to viewers on digital platforms (i.e., platforms other than cable and satellite), then that removes a very big reason for people to continue to subscribe to cable services that are, let’s face it, more costly by a factor of multiples than what people are willing to pay.  And even though such in-market digital games would be available only by authenticating “your” existing subscription, anyone who has a friend who subscribes to Netflix or Hulu knows that login credentials can be shared with as many people as the subscriber knows.  In other words, cable companies in particular know that in-market availability of games will cost them subscribers, revenue, and ultimately profits.  And they certainly don’t want that.

The restriction against viewing local games reaches epidemically ridiculous proportions in that it even includes a prohibition against watching out of market delayed broadcasts on the satellite and cable provider itself, or even “classic games” from decades before.  I live in Chicago, and I can’t view old Yankee classic games on YES, or Orioles classic games on MASN, because of the deal between MLB and distributors.  Why this is, I don’t know exactly―maybe it’s one of those things that distributors don’t really need, but like to have anyway just so they can negotiate away something not so important to retain the thing that is most important in cases like this―that most important thing being, of curse, live streaming of games to local markets.

But make no mistake: as much as Baseball and The  Networks want to make the product available to everyone everywhere, distributors have just as much desire to keep local viewers in the dark during local games.  Because they believe they have a very fat ox waiting to be gored when that happens, and unless some business arrangement or technical system is undertaken to address it, they have no interest in falling on that ox’s horns.

Forbes.com: Fox, MLB in Talks to Stream Local Broadcasts

(h/t forbes.com)

(h/t forbes.com)

On the heels on an interview Maury Brown of Forbes.com had with Rob Manfred, the new MLB Commissioner, in which the latter’s statement that Baseball’s blackout policy is a by-product of a territories system that is the “foundation of the very structure of the league”—a statement that blazed a trail throughout the American social media landscape all this week—comes word from Brown that MLB and Fox are in negotiations to air all Fox regional sports networks (RSN) baseball broadcasts into local markets via streaming, something that has been unavailable since the beginning of streaming.

Under the plan, MLB Advanced Media is seeking to stream games broadcast by Fox RSNs within the team’s local market through their MLB.TV app, which is available on computers such as PC and Mac desktops and laptops; through set-top devices such as Xbox, Playstations, Apple TV, smart TVs and the like; and through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets using the MLB At Bat app.  Fox Sports would also like to participate in the streaming action, showing games on their own Fox Sports Go app which is also available most if not all the same devices.  Brown says this control of the stream is a major sticking point holding up the agreement, which is said to be in the late stages of negotiation.

As Brown indicates, an agreement between Fox and MLB would free about 40% of all regional and local broadcasts to be streamed within their teams’ local markets, since that represents Fox’s share of such broadcasts.  The other major RSNs operated by Comcast and Root Sports don’t appear to be part of the talks; nor are RSNs owned and/or run by teams themselves, such as YES (Yankees), MASN (Orioles), NESN (Red Sox) and a few others.

From a user standpoint, viewers would log into their MLB.TV account, authenticate their pay-TV service’s credentials while doing so, and if successful, be released from their local blackout.  It’s not clear from Brown’s article whether users would need to authenticate pay-TV credentials when logging into MLB.TV upfront, or separately when trying to specifically access their Fox local market game, but if MLB follows the path of making the most sense it would definitely be the latter, since that would mean a cord cutter wouldn’t be able to use MLB.TV at all, for lack of upfront pay-TV credentials.

Speaking of whom: assuming this last point is true, cord cutters are still losers under this arrangement, since they would have no pay-TV log in credentials to use to bypass their local blackout.  Well, at least technically that’s true, as it is well understood that many people with login credentials for Netflix, Hulu and other pay services freely and gladly share those credentials with friends and family who have no such credentials.  But if you had to pick one and only one company who could figure out a way to undermine that kind of sharing, though, wouldn’t MLBAM have to be your first, if not only, guess, since their business model promotes restricting access as much as possible?  They would be mine, anyway.

However, when you think about it, it becomes clear that neither MLB nor their partner broadcasters care much for cord cutters anyway, for obvious reasons.  For one thing, they’re not pay TV customers, and furthermore probably won’t become customers anytime soon, and the relationship between the broadcasters and MLB is strong enough that MLB wouldn’t risk offending their broadcaster partners by trying to do some kind of end-around to get cord cutters on board the blackout removal train.  For another thing, cord cutters are a very small percentage of total households, less than 11% in total, so in terms of scale of effort versus return on investment, it just wouldn’t be worth MLB’s time.

Also losing in this arrangement, as it stands today, would be MLB.TV customers in the very largest DMAs (i.e., TV markets) in the country, as well as the ancillary DMAs that belong within their MLB territories.  Of the top ten DMAs, eight of them do not have Fox among their local RSNs: New York; Los Angeles (outside of Orange County); Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco-Oakland; Boston; Washington DC; and Houston.  These eight DMAs make up 25% of all the TV households in the country, and when you add the secondary markets within their teams’ territories into the mix, it probably adds another five to ten points to that number (source: author’s SWAG).

Nevertheless, this does seem to be a decent first step towards solving the MLB blackout conundrum that has vexed not only the actual business of Major League Baseball, but also the public’s perception of Major League Baseball as a business, which has not been held in the highest of esteem for some time.  Little by each, however—we’ll accept and applaud these first steps as the Big Baby takes them.

MLBAM is Not Just a TV Channel. It’s a Megadigitalmedia Behemoth.

Maury Brown, a writer who freelances for Forbes magazine, has written an illuminating article about Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) in which the big reveal is that they are much more than simply the source for your MLB.TV broadcast.  They are a multibillion dollar digital media and content infrastructure company that powers some of the better known video streaming sites across the Internet.  Not only are they are into the delivery of their own baseball product, but also analytics (serving top websites such as Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference);  infrastructure (powering Disney’s WatchESPN and Time’s 120Sports.com); and ticketing (owners of Tickets.com) as well.  Compared with other sports, they are way, way, WAY beyond the leading edge of integrating digital media into its business portfolio.

Read all about it here:

The Biggest Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of

All Star, World Series Games to be Streamed Online Starting This Year

As reported by Maury Brown in his Forbes column, MLB Advanced Media announced late last week that fans will be able to stream Fox’s broadcasts of the All Star Game and World Series games to their computers and mobile devices.  This capability comes online per MLB’s new broadcast agreement with Fox that runs through 2021.

Previously, only TBS’s postseason broadcasts were available for viewing on such devices.

And the best part for fans is, they won’t have to pay extra for these games, as they have in previous years, as long as they already have MLB.tv for the year.  Yay!