RealTime IT News

MLB.com Hawks Full Length Downloads

Major League Baseball's MLB.com portal is testing a new premium multimedia service hawking full-length games for download and burn.

The premium content experiment -- dubbed Digital Classics -- is targeting broadband baseball aficionados willing to pay $3.95 to download full-length digital copies of historic games. The first game that went on sale -- the historic no-hitter thrown by the Houston Astros against the New York Yankees recently -- has since sold 300 copies and the next game on offer will be Yankees' pitcher Roger Clemens' bid for 300 wins.

MLB.com spokesman Jim Gallagher told internetnews.com the site has already racked up 200 pre-orders for downloads of Clemens' 300th win, which could come as early as Friday evening.

Seattle-based RealNetworks , which has a three-year technology and rights deal to package and market pro baseball games on the Internet, is providing the backbone for Digital Classics but there are no DRM mechanisms to place a cap on the amount of burns allowed.

To counter piracy on peer-to-peer networks, MLB.com has added a secret ID tag to every download sold. If a customer uploads the games to one of the free, controversial file-sharing networks, Gallagher said the ID tag would pin that file to the customer and legal steps would be taken against violators.

On a high-speed connection, MLB.com said a RealVideo file would take approximately 40 minutes to download.

For this season, Gallagher said MLB.com will pick and choose games with historical significance to put into the Digital Classics service. "It's a test to see what kind of demand there is for full length downloads If it's something the fans like and want, we'd consider making every game available for next season," he said.

"If someone wanted to build a library of a specific team's entire 162 games in a season, that's a best case scenario. But, for now, we think the market is for games with historic significance," Gallagher added.

The launch of the download-and-burn option is the latest addition to MLB.com's premium multimedia offerings, which include the vaunted MLB.TV service that hawks on-demand and live access to pay-per-view video feeds.

Since MLB.TV launched in March this year, the site has nearly 45,000 subscriptions with 40 percent of those buying the $79.95 full season pass. Gallagher said another 40 percent opted for the $14.95 monthly subscription while the remainder bought individual games.

"That's way above our projections. We budgeted for 25,000 subscribers for this season and, halfway through, we've nearly doubled that," Gallagher said. (Subscription figures for MLB.TV via the RealOne SuperPass service were separate and unknown).

MLB.TV employs geography-based IP tracking technology to blackout local games and ensure network television rights are protected but, because MLB.TV games are archived and those saved games are available in the local market, Gallagher said there was a valuable market for local (tape delay) games.

The MLB.com site, which handles he Internet operations for the league's 30 baseball franchises, also sells play-by-play audio feeds -- Gameday Audio service -- for $19.95 a year.

That service is part of the exclusive three-year, $20 million deal between MLB.com and RealNetworks.

The MLB.com portal, run by the New York-based Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), launched with a $120 million, four-year commitment from the 30 teams (each team pledged $1 million annually) and Gallagher said the site was already profitable.

In the four years since taking over the operations, MLBAM has burned through about $70 million of the $120 million pledged by the owners and was cash-flow positive.

"We're profitable and self-sustainable. We're living off of our revenues and not going back to the [owners'] well," he said.