As demonstrated by the ongoing SportsNet L.A. debacle in Los Angeles, the shift of most in-market Major League Baseball games from broadcast TV to basic cable has resulted in lots of local fans being unable to watch their favorite teams. And this divide is likely going to expand as younger consumers cut the cable cord or choose to never get cable TV to begin with. New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says that reaching these fans is a high priority of his.
MLB has a successful streaming service with MLB.tv, but users are limited to viewing out-of-market live games. If you want to watch the stream for your local team, you’ll have to wait until 90 minutes after the game has concluded.
Thus, a without access to their local cable regional sports network has no way of seeing a game as it happens even if they pay for MLB.tv or an add-on cable package like MLB Extra Innings. Here in Philadelphia, this group of blacked-out fans includes not just those without cable, but all DirecTV and Dish customers.
In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, Manfred now says that he’s focusing on how to resolve the issue of in-market streaming.
“[T]he better part of my workday today was consumed by the topic of in-market streaming,” Manfred tells the Journal. “It is particularly complicated in the context of a media market that is changing so quickly, but I do believe we will get a solution on in-market streaming in the relatively near future.”
When asked if “relatively near future” could mean sometime this year, Manfred answered, “I hope so. I’d like to believe there will be games streamed at some point this year.”
Unfortunately, it’s not clear if this means that people without cable packages will be able to access these streams, or if the streaming might require some sort of authentication to show that you are a subscriber to some specific pay-TV package.
The ultimate goal would be for any local fan to have some way to access the live streams (without having to spoof your DNS or use a VPN to get around MLB.tv’s blackout system).
After all, there’s no reason that an MLB.tv subscriber shouldn’t get access to local games. Perhaps if MLB.tv didn’t insist on editing out the local network’s advertising in place of its own ads, the regional sports networks would be more amenable to in-market streaming.
And anyone who’s watched MLB.tv knows that most ad breaks contain few to no ads, so it’s not like the streaming service would be giving up some sort of revenue goldmine by just showing the full local TV feed with ads.