Major League Baseball Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman told the Associated Press this week that some baseball fans may be able to stream local broadcasts to their desktops and mobile devices by as early as next season. The changes would apply only to fans who already subscribe to the regional sports network that broadcasts their team’s games. For example, a San Francisco Giants fan who already pays for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area through her cable or satellite company would be able to stream Giants games when she is the CSN Bay Area viewing area, but not at home with access to her TV. Right now, she can only access Giants games on CSN Bay Area through MLB.tv and only when she is not in Northern California.
Whether this local streaming would be available through an RSN-linked app or through MLB.tv is still to be determined, according to Bowman. It’s also possible that MLBAM will work out deals with some RSNs and not others. Bowman told AP that the issues are complicated.
“If they were easy to resolve, then somebody would have done it, and if it didn’t matter, then it would have been resolved,” Bowman said. “In the end, we all want the same thing regardless of which side of the table you’re on. We all want somebody to be able to turn on a laptop or turn on a phone and see a live game in-market.”
Fans will be able to test the streaming option during this year’s postseason games, as those games will be available on mobile devices to fans who subscribe to ESPN, TBS and Fox, the three networks who hold baseball’s postseason broadcast rights.
Making local broadcasts available online and through mobile devices is a good first step in attracting younger fans who have grown up with access to a variety of entertainment options in the palm of their hands. But it is only a first step, as the new streaming plan will be linked to an increasingly expensive cable or satellite bill. Fans who’ve cut the cord — or never subscribed in the first place — will still face blackouts of their local team on their desktops and mobile devices.
Moreover, the exclusive broadcast territories would remain intact. So baseball fans in Iowa, for example — who are within the “exclusive” broadcast territory of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers but are not offered any of those team’s RSNs by their cable or satellite operator — wouldn’t see any relief from the changes Bowman hopes to roll out.
MLBAM’s effort to expand streaming options for fans comes as the league and its RSN partners continue to battle against charges that the exclusive broadcast territories violates federal antitrust law. A federal judge in New York recently ruled that MLB and the RSNs must face trial on the antitrust claims.
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