RealTime IT News

RealNetworks Cries Foul Over Baseball Blackout

RealNetworks is suing Major League Baseball's online broadcast arm for allegedly making the Microsoft's media player the only choice for fans.

In its legal filing Tuesday, the Seattle company is seeking to enforce a contract it signed last month with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).

Although RealNetworks and MLBAM have had an exclusive deal for the last three seasons, the new pact stipulated that the RealNetworks media format would continue to offered to fans on MLBAM sites such as MLB.com and MLB.TV, along with Microsoft's rival product Windows Media Player .

RealNetworks spokesman Greg Chiemingo told internetnews.com that there are some free programs still left in Real Player format, but consumers are not being offered a choice.

"I go to the schedule of spring training games and purchase one of the products, I am forced to use Windows Media Player," Chiemingo said.

MLBAM spokesman Jim Gallagher said Real's allegations are without merit.

"We are disappointed that RealNetworks has brought a lawsuit it's longstanding contract with MLBAM," Gallagher told internetnews.com. "We will continue to honor our February 2004 contract and expect to prevail in any litigation."

Microsoft spokespeople were not immediately available for comment.

In addition to immediately enforcing the contract, RealNetworks is asking a federal court judge to award it unspecified monetary damages for the period where Real was not available as a format for the broadcast games.

The lawsuit amplifies RealNetworks' December 2003 lawsuit against Microsoft, charging that the Redmond, Wash., software giant used its Windows monopoly to limit choice in digital media players.

Chiemingo said RealNetworks has worked with MLBAM since the beginning of the 2001 season to broadcast baseball games over the Internet. The contract was extended for the 2002 and 2003 season.

"We have a longstanding relationship with MLBAM but we wanted to expand our contract for this year," Chiemingo said. "The February deal was a different agreement where we were hoping to continue our RealNetworks format on their site."

Specifics of the February contract were not disclosed. But the previous relationships were lucrative for both MLBAM and RealNetworks. Since MLB.TV launched in March 2003, the site signed up more than 125,000 subscribers.

The number exceeded MLBAM's modest expectation of 25,000 subscribers. Subscription figures for MLB.TV via the RealOne SuperPass service were not disclosed, but the service costs $14.95 per month for spring training games and $79.95 for the entire 2004 season, including the playoffs and the World Series. MLB.com also offers Game Day audio streams for $14.95 per month for the entire season.

In related MLB news, Sun Microsystems representative told internetnews.com that the company is finalizing an "end-to-end solution" for MLB.com and is expected to announce the server room contract as soon as this week. Sun spokesperson said its contract with MLBAM had no bearing or impact on RealNetwork's lawsuit.