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Why cord cutters get shut out from MLB.TV

Jason Snell | April 3, 2014
No conversation about Major League Baseball's MLB.TV video-streaming service is complete without discussing the gaping hole at its heart: Games featuring teams in your local market aren't available.

No conversation about Major League Baseball's MLB.TV video-streaming service is complete without discussing the gaping hole at its heart: Games featuring teams in your local market aren't available.

Two groups of people are upset over this wrinkle. There are people who subscribe to cable or satellite TV, but want to watch their favorite team's games when they're at work or on the go. And then there are the cord cutters, who want to use MLB.TV as a way to watch their favorite team without subscribing to cable or satellite TV.

For the first group, there might be some hope. In the past, several teams have experimented with allowing their local games to be available for local cable or satellite TV subscribers. Like NBC's Olympics coverage, or a service such as HBO GO, the way this would work is that you verify your subscription to your television provider, and then MLB.TV would give you access to local games. (In the meantime, you'll need a Slingbox, TiVo, or some other home-TV box that allows you to stream your home TV to a remote location.)

There's probably also hope for fans who are not in a TV market served by a baseball team, yet are inexplicably considered part of that team's TV territory. This is a story about money, and there's probably money to be made by selling a video package to, say, the citizens of Las Vegas that allows them to watch games featuring the San Francisco Giants, which are blacked out and yet not available on local TV. (The same situation exists in Hawaii. And a similar one exists in North Carolina for Nationals and Orioles games — they're not available on cable, but they're still blacked out.) At some point, the money to be made from those fringe markets will outweigh the decades-old blackout system that's in place.

Home games are blacked out in the first place to protect local cable stations from losing viewers. You would think that those stations would be perfectly happy to let local viewers watch their broadcasts, complete with ads. But that's not the way cable television works: In addition to advertising revenue, cable stations make money directly from cable and satellite providers, who pay the cable company to carry their channel. (In the case of cable channels owned by cable companies, the profit comes more generally from cable subscriptions driven by the existence of those channels.) In a world where any local person could watch local baseball broadcasts without subscribing to cable or satellite, the ad revenue would remains intact... but the big money from the TV providers would dry up.

 

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