TheApril 3 Opening Day game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirateswill make U.S. TV history as the first MLB telecast from 's FOX Sports tofeature in-market digital streaming.
TheNL Central matchup will be the first game that will be available as a TVEverywhere presentation to authenticated viewers of , who willgain access to the game via streaming service FoxSportsGo.
Verifiedviewers of the RSN, home to the Cardinals, not only will be able to watchthe game on linear basis, but on mobile devices, computers and tablets throughthe FoxSportsGo app. The game plan calls for all 15 of the FOX-owned RSNs tomake their games available via FoxSportsGo app on Opening Day and throughoutthe 2016 season to verified viewers.
TheTVE presentations emanate from a three-year pact FOX Sports with MLB. 's BAM Tech unitwill manage the live streams. Financial terms were not disclosed, but sourceswith knowledge of the negotiations indicate there are actually two separatedeals in place, with MLB collecting what amounts to 4% of the RSN's annualmedia rights deal with each of the individual clubs, plus a vendor fee for MLBAdvanced Media's BAM Tech.
TheFOX Sports agreement with MLB bridged a sticking point over the years. MLBAM,whose MLB.TV and At Bat mobile app are the top digital entries forout-of-market ballgames, wanted to be an access point for the in-marketstreaming game. The RSNs, over the course, argued that the games should be madeavailable through their own platforms or those of affiliate MVPDs, within-market streaming a benefit for subscribers as part of their pay TVsubscriptions.
In-marketTVE streaming should become more widespread for MLB with other RSNs offeringthe platform later this season, according to Bob Bowman, president of businessand media at MLB, who continues to oversee MLB Network (US) and MLBAM. At press time,baseball said negotiations were continuing with the owners of the other 14 RSNsthat hold local MLB rights in the U.S. Bowman also said a number of U.S.networks will present ballgames in 4K this season. With thelaunch of in-market streaming, MLB joins the NBA as the second of the fourmajor pro sports leagues in North America to offer TVE presentations withinlocal markets.
"The[TVE] conversations are not done, but we're well down the path," saidBowman in an interview. "We've had good conversations with [NBC SportsGroup Chairman] Mark Lazarus and the people at NBC. But this stuff iscomplicated and involves watching through a lot of differentdistributors." While an agreement won't be in place with NBC as the seasonbegins, Bowman expressed confidence that "this will be the year"NBCUniversal MediaLLC's Comcast SportsNet services offer TVE for the telecasts of theChicago Cubs and White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's and PhiladelphiaPhillies.
WithNBC Sports having engaged in TV Everywhere with Olympics and for its RSNs thathold NBA rights, Bowman said MLBAM will not serve as the technical backendprovider for MLB TVE initiatives.
"Weare pleased with the rising consumption figures and added value that oursubscribers have enjoyed since introducing live streams of NBA coverage in2014," said NBC Sports Regional Networks in a statement. "We continueto work toward being able to deliver all of our content via TV Everywhere sothat our live events and original programming can be accessed wherever oursubscribers may be and on whatever device they choose to watch them."
Askedwhere things stand with next biggest RSN group, 's Roots Sports, whichholds the rights to the Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros andthe Pirates, Bowman said there will also "probably be a slightly differentarrangement. Like NBC, we're looking to launch in the first half of the 2016 season.We're not running into any show-stoppers. It's not a question of how, butgetting it done."
AT&Twould only say that it is continuing to talk with MLB about TVE.
TheFOX TVE play with MLB will be available to a wide swath of MVPD subscribers. Aspokesman said FOX Sports has local TVE deals with most distributors, whilesubscribers to DISH NetworkCorp. are expected to be able to join the TVE team by Memorial Dayas the programmer has reached deals for both regional and national access withthe DBS provider. Although it has a national TVE carriage agreement withComcast Corp., whichis embroiled in a high-profile price dispute with FOX-owned YES Network (US), FOX said it has yet to strikea regional pact with the MSO for all of its RSNs.
Atthe outset, FOX's TVE presentations will be simulcasts of the linear offering,including the commercials. As the season progresses, a FOX spokesman said thecompany expects to begin testing dynamic ad insertion with the TVE offerings,opening up a new revenue stream.
Therehave been limited in-market streaming gambits by MLB clubs in the U.S. in the past.Beginning in the second half of the 2009, YES had deals in placewith MLB and key distributors that made Bronx Bombers' ballgames availablein-market for extra subscription fees. The program drew relatively few takersand was discontinued after the 2013 season. The San Diego Padres also teamedpreviously with CoxCommunications Inc. on in-market streaming.
Northof the border, Bowman said the Toronto Blue Jays, which claim all of Canada astheir home market, will be entering their fourth season of offering in-marketstreaming.
Bowmansaid "usage has been to the standard of other TVE products and in that waythat's good." He said the importance of the offering is "as muchabout utilization as the philosophy of telling paying subscribers that they canuse any device, regardless of where they are. In that way, it's both thephilosophy and utilization that's important."
TheBlue Jays are also jumping into 4K production as willtelevise all of the club's 81 home games in the . Bowman said the club will not bealone in 2016 in testing the format.
"We'veheard from a number of our production partners and teams that they plan toproduce games in 4K this season," he said.
YetBowman was cautious in his assessment.
"4Kis not quite as experimental as virtual reality, but there are not a lot of 4Ksets out," he said. "Let's see what it looks like and if this isreally where the consumers will go."