MLB.TV Puts Live Games Online

Looking to cash in on the popularity — and exclusivity — of online audio
broadcasts of baseball games, Major League Baseball’s Web portal on Tuesday
launched a new MLB.TV service that offers
on-demand and live access to pay-per-view video feeds.

Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the New York-based company
that runs the pro baseball’s Web operations, is hawking about 45 regular
season out-of-market games a week for $14.95 per month. Another option is
for fans to shell out $79.95 for the entire season.The MLB.TV service, an extension of a three-year exclusive deal with
Seattle-based RealNetworks will employ IP tracking to
protect network television rights of local games but, because the technology
has been unreliable as a geo-location tool, it’s likely to raise the ire of
MLB’s television partners that shell out billions of broadcast rights.

MLBAM spokesman Jim Gallagher told internetnews.com the MLB.TV
initiative would be available only to fans with high-speed Internet access,
will also sell the feed on a per-game basis but pricing for that option has
not been fixed. That per-game option is expected to be in the range of $3
or $4 each.

MLBAM is projecting at least 25,000 subscribers for the MLB.TV service
this season.

MLB.TV will use geo-location technology from Mountain View, Calif.-based
Quova to black out access to local
games. Quova’s tools match Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to identify
users within the local market but, because IPs can be easily masked via
proxies and anonymizers, the technology has never been foolproof enough to
ensure protection.

For instance, a New York Yankees fan in the Bronx can use a proxy to fool
the technology into believing he/she is in North Carolina and get access to
the video feeds. MLBAM plans to randomly verify the location of users by
collecting telephone numbers but, that too, can easily be circumvented. It
would take a monumental effort to adequately police IP spoofers but MLBAM
does not believe that problem will be widespread.

To lure paying subscribers to MLB.TV, the league will offer a ‘freeview’
version for Spring Training games to go along with free audio-only feeds.
Once the regular season kicks off, the feeds will all go behind the premium
curtain. The company also announced a price hike for the play-by-play audio
feeds and a single-team package that should find takers among baseball fans.

The Gameday Audio service, which is geared towards fans on the move, will
now cost $19.95 for the season, up from $14.95 but MLBAM has tweaked the
options to hawk an $11.95 service for access to single team feeds.
Gallagher said the pricing was set by RealNetworks, which shelled
out $20 million
in March 2001 for exclusive online audio and video
rights.

For RealNetworks, the launch of MLB.TV is a big boost to its efforts to
hold up the RealOne SuperPass service as the number one fee-based video
service online. With rival Yahoo on the verge of
rolling out a competing
service
, the company is hoping its baseball exclusivity will give it an
edge with a key demographic.

According to Arbitron’s Webcast Audience Profiles, fans who tune in and
pay for baseball Webcasts were a prized lot. An Arbitron survey found that
31 percent of the listeners to World Series games on MLB.com live in homes
with annual incomes greater than $100,000, while only 16 percent of all
American households are in that bracket. Listeners who tuned to the World
Series online were also highly educated, with 82 percent having completed
college and/or attained a post-graduate degree, compared to only 21 percent
of the U.S. population who have obtained the same level of education.

It is not the first time MLBAM has dabbled with putting fee-based video
online. Last April, the portal rolled out a
pay-per-view condensed version of all games. Condensed Games sold a
20-minute on-demand highlight package of every game played in the 2001
baseball season and was priced at $4.95 per month.

MLBAM, which has a $120 million commitment over four years from the
baseball league. Major League Baseball’s 30 owners have agreed to inject $1
million annually into its Web operations money made from the subscription
services are all split evenly by the franchises.

Separately, MLBAM announced that SportingNews.com would power its
online fantasy games feature at MLB.com. In addition to providing the
fantasy games, the Sporting News will be the official content provider for
MLB.com’s subscription-based fantasy games including stats, rankings,
previews, daily player updates and injury reports to MLB.com fantasy
players.

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