Tag Archives: Root Sports

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.