MLB, RSNs Yet To Bridge In-Market Streaming Differences

Dismissing a report that a national distributor is nearing a deal to provide in-market streaming of ballgames this season, Major League Baseball sources indicate that conversations with regional sports networks and MPVDs continue and progress is being made toward affecting such a play during the upcoming season.

Sources at MLB said that aNew York Post story indicating that the league could soon announce a deal enabling a national distributor to provide in-market streaming for all clubs is “entirely wrong.” The report, citing a source familiar with the situation, said a wireless carrier could step up to the plate in that regard.

The account prompted one sports network executive to cast doubt on MLB’s right to strike such a deal sans approval from the RSNs.  Added another RSN executive:  “They would certainly have to talk to the RSNs first.”

A Fox source said the Post report does not reflect the conversations the programmer has been having with MLB about in-market streaming. "That's not a deal Fox would do," he said.

Meanwhile, negotiations continue between MLB, the RSNs and their owners, and distributors. While the RSNs have acceded to a general cost structure – 3% of their annual rights allotments to stream the contests – they have yet to agree on access points.

The RSNs, citing industry standards, want the games to be made available through their own platforms or through their affiliate MPVDs at no additional cost. They want to pitch the contests locally within the current pay-TV ecosystem that provides added value to subscribers thereunto.

MLB Advanced Media wants to be included in this access game. Its and the At Bat mobile app are the top digital entries for out-of-market ballgames. 

National TV games on ESPN, Turner and Fox are streamed. Last season for the first time, TBS, via its website and Watch TBS mobile app, and Fox, which also presented the All-Star Game on Fox Sports Go, streamed the postseason to authenticated viewers. MLB.TV also streamed the World Series and select postseason games to its authenticated subscriber base. It also made a subscription postseason package available to newcomers.

Baseball, citing BAM’s technological, security and authentication prowess, which has prompted others like HBO Now, ESPN for its 2014 World Cup coverage, WWE and U2 to employ the unit, argues that excluding the “No. 1 site” from the local streaming lineup is not fan-friendly.

“Discussions continue with RSNs and distributors,” said a league source.  “A lot are very open to the three platforms. Some are less open about it.”

The RSNs, paying billions of dollars in rights through long-term deals to televise the teams’ games in their territories, believe they should control local streaming rights. They point to the tipoff of widescale streaming of NBA games this season on Fox Sports Go and NBC Sports Live Extra and affiliate platforms, with usage metrics growing as the campaign has progressed.

Fox, which owns 15 RSNs that air MLB games, and Comcast’s NBC Sports Group, which has six, both favor the TVE ecosystem that allows verified video subscribers to tap game action via their apps or affiliates’ systems. DirecTV is the other major RSN player, with networks that televise Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros contests.

For their part, the Comcast RSNs have been dynamically inserting ads on the NBA simulcasts, opening up a revenue stream that will only continue to grow as more viewing, especially among younger people, migrates away from linear TV.

Stateside in past seasons, New York Yankees and San Diego Padres games have been streamed in-market for an additional subscription price, without gaining much traction. However, the TVE movement and the amount of sports, entertainment and news content available to authenticated subs has grown considerably of late, and viewers have grown increasingly accustomed to watching and expecting to find content beyond the confines of traditional linear TV.

Baseball insiders, stating that more progress has been made in recent months than over the past half-decade, maintain that the launch of in-market streaming is a top league priority this season, the first under new commissioner Rob Manfred.

Although it's unlikely to start with Opening Day, they remain optimistic that some level of in-market streaming will occur during the 2015 campaign.